WASHINGTON (JTA) — Bill Richardson is leaving Cuba after failing to secure even a meeting with imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross.
Richardson told The Associated Press on Tuesday that after a week in the country, Cuban officials would not allow him to meet with Gross, and would not even discuss Gross with him.
"It was just an outright rejection of even a dialogue on what could be done," said the former New Mexico governor, U.S. congressman and U.N. ambassador, who over the years has secured freedom for Americans imprisoned in Iraq and North Korea.
Gross, 62, is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for “crimes against the state” for distributing laptop computers and connecting Cuban Jews to the Internet.
Gross was arrested in 2009 as he was leaving Cuba and accused of being a spy.
His appeal was rejected recently by the island nation’s Supreme Court, and now the only legal avenue left available is for the commutation of his sentence by President Raul Castro. Richardson was also told he could not meet with Castro.
Since his incarceration, Gross reportedly has lost approximately 100 pounds and is suffering from partial paralysis, as well as other ailments.
In a statement, Gross’s U.S. lawyer said the family was concerned that the Cuban refusal to allow Richardson to meet Gross signaled a turn for the worse in his health.
"The family fears that the Governor’s inability to see Alan may be related to Alan’s deteriorating health, as in the past others have been permitted to see Alan when visiting Cuba," Peter Kahn said. "Despite this unfortunate development, the Gross family is extremely appreciative of Governor Richardson’s efforts. The family continues to hope and pray that Alan will be released on humanitarian grounds in time for him to be back with his family for the Jewish High Holy Days."
Gross’ daughter has breast cancer and his mother was diagnosed with cancer as well.
Richardson, a two-term New Mexico governor from 2003 to 2011, also is a former U.S. energy secretary.