(JTA) — United States and Cuban officials met to discuss the case of Alan Gross, but the U.S. did not offer to release convicted Cuban spies, a State Department official said.
"(W)e have had discussions with the Cuban Government about this case and the importance of releasing him, but we need for purposes of diplomatic confidentiality to not go any further here," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Oct. 14. "But we are very firm in reaffirming that we were not looking at the release of any" members of the so-called "Cuban Five," spies arrested in the United States in 1998.
The first of the Cuban Five, Rene Gonzalez, was released this week after serving 13 years of a 15-year sentence in an American prison. He must now serve three years of probation in the United States.
Reporters asked Nuland if a deal allowing Gonzalez to serve his probation in Cuba would be considered enough of a swap to get Gross released from a Cuban prison.
"I’m not prepared to speak any further about our private diplomatic exchanges with the Cubans except to say that we believe that the guy needs to get out of jail and we want to see that happen," Nuland said when pressed.
"We believe that Alan Gross should be released. We’ve made that point to the Cubans. We’ve also made clear that we are not considering the release of any member of the Cuban Five. I am not aware of any other proposed prisoner swaps. We want the guy out of jail," she said.
The Associated Press reported Oct. 14 that the U.S. had offered to let Gonzalez return to Cuba in exchange for Gross’ release, citing anonymous official U.S. sources. The AP reported that the Gross-Gonzalez swap was suggested by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and other senior U.S. officials during meetings last month with Cuban officials. Other inducements reportedly also were offered, including removing Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Richardson was prevented from meeting with Gross.
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. He was arrested in 2009 as he was leaving Cuba and accused of being a spy.
Gross’ family and U.S. State Department officials say that Gross was in the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the country’s 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet. The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program.
Gross’ daughter has breast cancer and his mother was diagnosed with cancer as well. He reportedly has lost more than 100 pounds while in prison due to a chronic illness.