Alan Gross, a government contractor from Maryland who is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba, is getting some help from U.S. Senators this week. Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2009 and was charged with "crimes against the state" after he brought restricted communications equipment to the country while on a democracy-building program. As Alex Bolton, senior staff writer with The Hill newspaper explains, 44 U.S. Senators, including Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, released a letter to Cuba's president asking for Gross to be released.
What exactly did these Senators say in their letter to Cuban President Raul Castro?
"They made an appeal for Gross' release on a humanitarian basis. They noted that Gross has lost 105 pounds since being in Cuban captivity, he has degenerative arthritis, and an untreated mass behind his shoulder blade. They also noted that Gross' mother is suffering from inoperable cancer and his daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. They have made the argument that the Cuban government should release him and said if they don't, it will prove a major obstacle to bilateral relations."
What kind of impact might this letter have?
"The U.S. and Cuba are a long way away from normal trade relations, however, there have been ongoing efforts to improve agricultural trade between the U.S. and Cuba and make some allowances for immigration. Those efforts could be stalled by this letter. If they Cuban government is interested in getting these measures fasttracked on the Hill, they'll have to take this letter seriously."
Are we getting any sense that Cuba is willing to negotiate for Gross's release?
"A Cuban diplomat earlier this month suggested that the ball is in the Washington's court. He suggested that Cuba had made an offer for an agreement to release Gross. However, a State Department official I spoke to today said there is no serious offer from Cuba. There have been previous press reports saying that what Cuba wants is a quid pro quo trade — the release of five Cuban agents who were sentenced in Miami in 2001 to lengthy prison terms. Cuba wants to see their release for Gross' release, and the State Department is not biting on that offer."
What kind of role do Maryland's senators appear to be playing here?
"Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is playing the leading role. He and Jerry Moran (R-Ks.) have teamed up on the letter and are leading the effort. Cardin made a statement today calling for Allen's release. He said, 'We will let the world know how Cuba is violating the rights of an American citizen until Cuba follows through.'"
"Moran is an interesting choice as a partner for Cardin. That's because he's very big on agricultural issues as the Senator for Kansas. That's an important area for Cuba, so that could give the Cuban government a little more of an incentive if they want to ease some agricultural trade restrictions."