The Associated Press and Reuters reported that Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, and Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, believe that the Cuban government will free Alan Gross, the USAID contractor sentenced for bringing illegal satellite phones and computer equipment covertly to the island. Gross has been imprisoned since December 2009. CNN put a damper on the senators’ optimism when it reported that they will “fly back from Cuba to the United States on Wednesday … [with] the regret of not being able to take with them Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor serving a 15-year prison sentence on the island.”
Flake and Udall spent Tuesday in Cuba and met with Gross. They also met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.
The Reuters report states that one of the senators believes Gross will be released “in part because he has threatened to end his life if he is not released.”
Asked about the possibility of Gross’ release, Sen. Flake said, “I do feel we’re closer there, one because what Alan Gross has said himself, this is going to end one way or another.”
According to the AP, both senators added, though, that Cuban officials gave no indication any development was imminent.
Flake also cited as cause for optimism a report that USAID is preparing internal rules that would effectively end risky undercover work in hostile countries.
“There’s been a realization and a statement that there won’t be covert programs run out of AID anymore and that’s a good thing,” said Flake, who is a longtime advocate of loosening the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. “It’s not just a source of tension between countries; it puts Americans in danger and it really cheapens AID’s mission around the world, in my view.”
Cuba has said repeatedly it wants to negotiate with the U.S. over the fate of Gross as well as three remaining members of the Cuban Five who are imprisoned in the U.S. on charges including espionage.
The CNN report stated that the “Cuban government has called for a prisoner swap: Gross for three imprisoned Cuban intelligence agents serving lengthy federal prison sentences in the United States.
“But the U.S. State Department has nixed the idea of a swap, saying Gross was an aid worker merely trying to help Cuba’s small Jewish community get online despite Cuban government restrictions on Internet access.
“Frustrated by the diplomatic impasse, Gross has threatened to kill himself if he isn’t freed soon.”