HAVANA – The release of U.S. government contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban prison depends solely on the “political will” of President Barack Obama, a Havana spy who spent more than 15 years behind bars in the United States said on Monday.
To support that assertion, Fernando Gonzalez cited Obama’s decision to trade five senior Taliban members being held at Guantanamo for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American POW in Afghanistan.
Gonzalez, one of five Cuban spies convicted by a Miami jury in 2001, was released from prison in late November and promptly deported.
Three of the “Cuban Five” remain jailed in the United States and Havana has suggested an exchange of its spies for Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba on a conviction for subversion.
“It’s obvious that the only thing needed is the political will on the part of the U.S. government to bring to fruition that exchange,” Gonzalez told a press conference on Monday.
The swap of five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl “is evidence that the only thing lacking is the political will of Obama to resolve this situation,” Gonzalez said.
The cases of Gross and the Cuban Five, in recent years, have become points of friction within the already-tense relations between the United States and Cuba, countries that have not had diplomatic relations for more than five decades.
Gross, now 64, traveled to Cuba on behalf of a Maryland company that won a contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to expand Internet access and the flow of information on the Communist-ruled island.
Cuban authorities arrested him in December 2009 in possession of communications equipment.
Havana said he was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion and in an August 2012 ruling, Cuba’s highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on the American.
The Cuban Five have always insisted they were spying on Miami’s Cuban exile community, not the U.S. government.
Cuba says the men were sent to Florida in the wake of several terror bombings in Havana allegedly masterminded by anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative.
The United States rejects talk of a prisoner swap, instead demanding that Cuba release Gross without conditions.