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Senators who favor more trade with Cuba plan halt advocacy to push for Alan Gross release

Posted on Tuesday, 06.19.12

Senators who favor more trade with Cuba plan halt advocacy to push for

Alan release

The senators from Kansas and Illinois say they want to put pressure on

Cuba to free U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross.

By Juan O. Tamayo

Two U.S. senators who have long pushed to ease restrictions on trade

with Cuba say they have put their advocacy on hold in hopes of

pressuring Havana to free jailed U.S. government subcontractor Alan P.


The decisions by Sens. Jerry Moran R-Kansas, and Dick Durbin D-Il.,

underlined how the case of Gross, serving a 15-year sentence, has

become a persistent roadblock in almost any attempt to warm up U.S.-Cuba


"I have tried to change the trading relationship with Cuba. I am taking

a hiatus from that effort," Moran told the congressional newspaper The

Hill. "I hope that this will put pressure on Cuba to release him."

Durbin, who as the Senate majority whip is the second-highest ranking

Democrat in the chamber, declared that his meeting with Gross in his

Havana cell this spring convinced him that more needs to be done to free

him, according to The Hill report Sunday

Durbin has been an advocate of using trade to open up closed societies

like Cuba, and along with Moran has submitted several legislative

proposals over the years to ease the U.S. trade on the island.

Calls to Moran and Durbin's Washington spokespersons on Monday seeking

additional comment for this story were not returned.

Gross, 63, a development specialist working for a U.S. government

pro-democracy program, is serving a 15-year sentence for acting against

Cuba's sovereignty when he delivered three satellite phones to

Cuban Jews that allowed them independent access to the ,

bypassing government controls. Cuba has outlawed cooperation with the

programs, arguing they are designed to topple the government.

The Obama administration has demanded his release as a humanitarian

gesture, arguing that he is in ill , that his mother has

inoperable cancer and that one of his daughters is undergoing treatment

for breast cancer.

Havana has made it clear Gross will be freed only in exchange for the

five Cuban intelligence officials convicted in Miami in 1998. Four are

serving long sentences and the fifth completed his prison term but is on

parole somewhere in the United States.

The White House has repeatedly said that it will not swap Gross for the

Cuban spies, and that it can make no major effort to improve bilateral

relations until the Maryland man is released.

Moran and Durbin, both from farm states, have been trying for years to

ease U.S. trade sanctions on Cuba in order to make it easier for the

island to buy U.S. and other agricultural goods — which totaled

$347 million in 2011.

Moran has proposed allowing Cuba to make payments directly to U.S.

financial institutions, which now must go through third countries. He

also wants Cuba, now required to pay for the goods before they leave the

United States, to be able to pay once they reach the island.

The proposals have been rejected in Congress, with Cuban-American

members and other opponents arguing that easing the U.S. trade

restrictions would help the half-century old communist government.

Gross' case has been making headlines in recent days because of reports

that his health is deteriorating. He has lost more than 100 pounds since

his arrest in late 2009, and has been serving his sentence in a military

in Havana.

His U.S. lawyer, Peter J. Kahn complained last week that Cuba had not

given his family the results of his latest medical tests. The U.S. State

Department said Thursday it was "extremely concerned" by reports that

Gross could no longer walk around his cell.

Cuba's Foreign Ministry reported Friday that Gross' health was "normal''

although he suffered from "chronic conditions typical of someone his

age.'' And over the weekend it sent the medical test results to his family.

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