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Old 17-12-14, 19:33   #1
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United States of America VIDEOs-US/Cuba Exchange SPY Prisoners=US Open Embassy in Havana

Cuba Frees American Alan Gross in Three-for-Two Prisoner Swap as Obama Prepares to Release Remaining 'Cuban Five' Spies – and May Open an EMBASSY in Havana

Cuba Also Released US Spy After 20 Years in Prison

US/Cuba to Restore Diplomatic Relations after 50 Years

  • President will make noon announcement of policy changes from the White House
  • Florida GOP firebrand Sen. Marco Rubio said an embassy in Havana could come in months, and complained that Obama's move 'is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba'
  • Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey lashed out at Obama, saying his actions 'have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government' and 'set a dangerous precedent'
  • Gross was convicted in Cuba of importing banned technology used for establishing clandestine Internet service for Cuban Jews
  • Prisoner exchange will free Cuban national convicted in shoot-down of civilian plan that killed four Cuban-Americans
  • Gross lost 100 pounds in Cuban prison and went on a five-day hunger strike in April
By Reuters - 17 December 2014

Cuba has released American aid worker Alan Gross after five years in captivity, in a reported prisoner exchange with Havana that the United States said Wednesday heralds an overhaul of U.S. policy toward Cuba.
A U.S. official said Gross was released on humanitarian grounds. President Barack Obama will make a statement at noon on Cuba, the White House said, and another U.S. official said Obama would announce a shift in Cuba policy.

Cuban President Raul Castro was also set to make a statement at that time.
Leading senators from both parties savaged the Obama administration's decision on Wednesday. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said the U.S. and Cuba are moving toward normalizing banking and trade relationships – and that America may soon open an embassy in Havana, perhaps within a matter of months.

'This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba,' Rubio said. 'But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.'


American Alan Gross arrived Wednesday on US soil as news swirled about a possible normalization of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana

Gross (left, shown with wife Judy) was physically robust and 100 pounds heavier before he was sent to a Cuban prison in 2009

Alan Gross, seen here on a poster at a rally, was released from jail in Cuba on Tuesday after five years

Cuban strongman Raul Castro, seen July 26 in a military memorial ceremony, negotiated a three-for-one package with Barack Obama that will see his country's most celebrated American captives set free

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's outgoing chairman, said 'President Obama's actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.'

'Let's be clear,' he said: 'This was not a "humanitarian" act by the Castro regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American.'
'Trading Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent,' Menendez warned. 'It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk the thousands of Americans that work overseas to support civil society, advocate for access to information, provide humanitarian services, and promote democratic reforms.
'This asymmetrical trade will invite further belligerence toward Cuba's opposition movement and the hardening of the government’s dictatorial hold on its people.'

Rubio's remarks came in an Associated Press interview.

Cuba arrested Gross, now 65, on Dec. 3, 2009, and later convicted the U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor to 15 years in prison for importing banned technology and trying to establish clandestine Internet service for Cuban Jews

The United States and Cuba have been locked in hostilities for more than half a century, and Obama is sure to face howls of protest in Washington and within the Cuban exile community in Miami for freeing the Cuban intelligence agents after 16 years in prison.

Their freedom will be hailed as a resounding victory at home for Raul Castro.

The payoff for Obama was the release of Gross, whose lawyer and family have described him as mentally vanquished, gaunt, hobbling and missing five teeth.
Cuba arrested Gross in 2009 and later sentenced him to 15 years for attempting to establish clandestine Internet service for Cuban Jews under a program run by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

His case raised alarms about USAID's practice of hiring private citizens to carry out secretive assignments in hostile places.

FREED: Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero and Ramon Labañino are three Cuban spies set to be released by President Barack Obama in exchange for the return of prisoner Alan Gross. Hernandez was given two life sentences for conspiring to shoot down airplanes flown by American civilians

Cars drive past an 'End to Injustice!' banner featuring five Cuban prisoners held in U.S. custody, two of whom were previously released, in Havana December 17, 2014. The aging automobiles are a sign of Cuba's international isolation, as 50-year-old cars are commonplace on the streets of Havana

FRENEMIES: Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, the outgoing Foreign Relations Committee chairman (left), savaged Obama on Wednesday for suggesting a normalization of relations with Cuba

Cuba considers USAID another instrument of continual U.S. harassment dating to the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. Fidel Castro retired in 2008, handing power to his brother Raul.

The United States has said it wants to promote democracy in communist-led Cuba, a one-party state that represses political opponents and controls the media. American officials accused Cuba of taking Gross hostage as a ploy to get their spies back.

The three Cuban intelligence agents, jailed since 1998, are Gerardo Hernandez, 49, Antonio Guerrero, 56, and Ramon Labañino, 51. Two others had been released before completing their sentences – Rene Gonzalez, 58, and Fernando Gonzalez, 51.

The so-called Cuban Five were convicted for spying on anti-Castro exile groups in Florida and monitoring U.S. military installations.
They are hailed as anti-terrorist heroes in Cuba for defending the country by infiltrating exile groups in Florida at a time when anti-Castro extremists were bombing Cuban hotels.
Two were due to be released in coming years but Gerardo Hernandez, the leader, received a double life sentence for conspiracy in Cuba's shooting down of two U.S. civilian aircraft in 1996, killing four Cuban-Americans.

Judy Gross spoke at a string of rallies for her husband's release, including this 2012 event in West Palm Beach, Florida

Wife says jailed American Alan Gross in Cuba is suicidal:

Rene Gonzalez (left) and Fernando Gonzalez (right) were the first two Cuban spies to be sent home, leaving three of the original 'Cuban Five' in American prisons

The United States had flatly refused to swap Gross for the agents, but the White House came under increasing pressure to intervene from Gross' allies and foreign policy experts as Gross' health deteriorated.

Gross had already lost some 100 pounds when he went on a five-day hunger strike in April, and upon his 65th birthday in May he vowed to die rather than turn 66 in prison.

Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said Wednesday that Gross 'was not a spy and he was not a soldier, and he was unfairly detained for far too long.'
'He was a humanitarian working to ensure Cubans could experience some of the freedoms we enjoy every day,' he said. 'Alan’s health deteriorated significantly during his time in prison, making his release all the more urgent and necessary.'

Coons said that when he met with Gross two years ago in prison, the American captive gave him a bracelet he had made out of scraps of plastic 'with hopes that we wouldn’t forget him. We didn’t.'

Gross' release could lead Obama to begin normalizing relations with Cuba, which would stir fierce opposition from well-financed and politically organized Cuban exiles, who resist engagement with the communist-led island.

Sen. Marco Rubio (right), the son of Cuban emigres, warned that the U.S. is poised to normalize diplomatic relations with Havana

RISKY: Obama will have to explain to Cuban-Americans why softening the US position toward Havana is a good idea

US infiltrated Cuba's hip hop scene investigation reveals:

Although Obama said 'we have to continue to update our policies' on Cuba over a year ago, until now he had yet to signal change.
The president has authority to unilaterally gut the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and allow U.S. citizens to travel freely to the island.
His State Department can remove Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, an outdated designation that carries with it further economic sanctions.

Proponents of normalization note that Cuba has blamed the embargo for its economic shortcomings for decades and uses U.S. aggression as justification for stifling dissent.

Despite bilateral animosity, the two countries have been quietly engaged on a host of issues such as immigration, drug interdiction and oil-spill mitigation.


1898: U.S. wins the Spanish-American war, forcing Spain to cede control over Cuba
1902: Cuba becomes independent but the island remains under US protection and Congress retains the right to intervene in the nation's affairs
1934: After a coup led by Sergeant Fulgencio Batista, the U.S. relinquishes its right to intervene in Cuba and alters its tariff structure to favor Cuba's economy
1958: The US pulls its military aid to Batista following two years of guerrilla warfare waged by leftist rebels Fidel Castro and Che Guevara
1959: Castro leads 9,000 guerrillas into Havana and deposes Batista, later meeting with then-Vice President Richard Nixon in Washington
1960: U.S. breaks off diplomatic relations with Havana and imposes a trade embargo after Castro 'nationalizes' all U.S. businesses operating in Cuba without any compensation
1961: Castro proclaims Cuba a communist nation and allies with the Soviet Union, shortly after the U.S. backs Cuban exiles who aimed, but failed, to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs
1961-63: The CIA draws up at least five separate plans to assassinate Castro
1962: Castro lets the Soviet Union deploy nuclear missiles in Cuba, pointed at the U.S., and the U.S. releases photos of the missile silos; the 'Cuban missile crisis' was resolved when the USSR dismantled the missiles in exchange for the withdrawal of American nuclear missiles from Turkey
1980: Around 125,000 Cubans in the 'Mariel boatlift' – a large number of them convicts released from Cuban jails – flee to the US, when Castro temporarily lifts restrictions on travel
1996: U.S. makes its trade embargo permanent after Cuba shoots down two American aircraft operated by Cuban exiles based in Miami
2001: Five Cubans are given long sentences in the U.S. for spying for the Cuban government, including one who conspired to bring down the planes in 1996
2001: The Bush administration exports food to Cuba for the first time in more than four decades, following Havana's plea for help after Hurricane Michelle
2002: U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton, later America's UN Reresentative, accuses Cuba of trying to develop biological weapons
2002: Former President Jimmy Carter tours scientific facilities in Cuba, making him the first former or current U.S. president to visit the country in more than 40 years
2003: President George W. Bush tightens Cuban travel embargo and creates the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba
2006: Fidel Castro, in failing health, hands over power to his brother Raul
2006: The U.S. sends a 10-member bipartisan delegation from Congress to Cuba, but Raul Castro refuses to meet with them
2009: Barack Obama lifts restrictions on family travel and cash transfers to Cuba by family members
2009: Alan Gross is jailed in Cuba, accused of spying for Washington just days before the New Year
2014: Gross is released in exchange for the three remaining 'Cuban Five' prisoners, and the Obama administration announces plans to 'normalize' relations with Havana


U.S. and Cuba, in Breakthrough, Will Resume Diplomatic Relations

N.Y Times, 17 Dec 2014

President Obama greeted President Raúl Castro of Cuba in 2013 during a memorial service for Nelson Mandela. Credit Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, American officials said Wednesday.

In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House.

The deal will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the America” and move beyond a “rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government. Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now, the administration signaled that it would welcome a move by Congress to ease or lift it should lawmakers choose to.

“Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people,” the White House said in a written statement.

President Obama plans made a televised statement from the White House at noon to discuss the breakthrough, which could shape his legacy after he leaves office in two years.

Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Castro by telephone on Tuesday to finalize the agreement in a call that lasted more than 45 minutes, the first direct contact between the leaders of the two countries in more than 50 years, American officials said.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were severed in January 1961 after the rise of Fidel Castro and his Communist government. Mr. Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba about re-establishing diplomatic relations and to begin the process of removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on since 1982, the White House said.

Officials said they would re-establish an embassy in Havana and carry out high-level exchanges and visits between the two governments within months. Mr. Obama will send an assistant secretary of state to Havana next month to lead an American delegation to the next round of talks on Cuban-American migration. The United States will also begin working with Cuba on issues like counternarcotics, environmental protection and human trafficking.

The United States will also ease travel restrictions across all 12 categories currently envisioned under limited circumstances in American law, including family visits, official visits and journalistic, professional, educational and religious activities, public performances, officials said. Ordinary tourism, however, will remain prohibited.

Mr. Obama will also allow greater banking ties and raise the level of remittances allowed to be sent to Cuban nationals to $2,000 every three months from the current limit of $500. Intermediaries forwarding remittances will no longer require a specific license from the government. American travelers will also be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol products.

“This is being done because we believe the policy of the past has not worked and we believe the best way to bring democracy and prosperity to Cuba is through a different kind of policy,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call under White House ground rules that did not permit the official to be identified.

But the official said the shift would not diminish the American focus on human rights in Cuba. “Our emphasis on human rights will be just as strong and we believe more effective under this policy,” the official said. “We will engage directly with the Cuban government on human rights.”

Mr. Gross’s health has been failing. He has reportedly lost more than 100 pounds in prison and is losing vision in his right eye. He went on a nine-day hunger strike in April. After turning 65 in May, he told relatives that he might try to kill himself if not released soon.

Three members of Congress were on the plane that picked up Mr. Gross in Cuba on Wednesday and accompanied him back to the United States, officials said: Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.

Other Democratic and Republican lawmakers were sharply critical of the deal. “Let’s be clear, this was not a ‘humanitarian’ act by the Castro regime. It was a swap of convicted spies for an innocent American,” said Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “President Obama’s actions have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, considered a prospect for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, told The Associated Press:

“This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba. But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.”Mr. Gross was in Cuba to deliver satellite telephone equipment that was capable of cloaking connections to the Internet when he was arrested in 2009. The Cuban authorities, who tightly control access to the Internet in their country, initially said he was a spy, and a court there convicted him of bringing in the devices without a permit as part of a subversive plot to “destroy the revolution.”

Mr. Gross’s case drew increasing attention as his health deteriorated. He grew despondent and talked of suicide, and his wife, Judy Gross, and other supporters made urgent pleas for his release, but off-and-on diplomatic talks seemed to go nowhere.

Cuba has often raised the case of three of its spies serving federal prison time in Florida, saying they had been prosecuted unjustly and urging that they be released on humanitarian grounds. State Department officials insisted that the cases were not comparable and that Mr. Gross was not an intelligence agent.

Mr. Gross worked for Development Alternatives, of Bethesda, Md., and had traveled to more than 50 countries as an international development worker. The company had a $6 million contract with the United States Agency for International Development to distribute equipment that could get around Cuba’s Internet blockade, and Mr. Gross had made four previous trips to Cuba in 2009.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the former New Mexico governor and cabinet secretary Bill Richardson and several members of Congress appealed for Mr. Gross’s release, along with Jewish advocacy groups in the United States.
After visiting Mr. Gross in November, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona and a longtime advocate of loosening the 50-year-old American trade embargo with Cuba, said he was optimistic that the case would be resolved.

American lawmakers who have drawn attention to Mr. Gross’s case celebrated his departure from Cuba.

“Today, news of Alan’s release brings great relief to his loved ones and to every American who has called for his freedom,” said Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas. “I admire Alan’s strength and that of his wife Judy, who has worked tirelessly for years to free Alan and reunite her family.”

The American government has spent $264 million over the last 18 years, much of it through the development agency, in an effort to spur democratic change in Cuba. The agency said in November that it would cease the kinds of operations that Mr. Gross was involved in when he was arrested, as well as those, disclosed by The Associated Press, that allowed a contractor to set up a Twitter-like social network that hid its ties to the United States government.

Cuba to Release US Spy Imprisoned for 20 Years

AP, 17 Dec 2014

WASHINGTON — Cuba is releasing a U.S. spy imprisoned for nearly 20 years in the communist country, Obama administration officials said Wednesday, as part of the effort to restore diplomatic relations.
The spy is a non-American man whose identity remains secret, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

They said he was responsible for some of the most important counterintelligence prosecutions that the United States has pursued in recent decades, including a group known as the Cuban Five. The U.S. is releasing the group’s three remaining prisoners in a swap for the U.S. spy, they said.

The Cuban Five were part of the “Wasp Network” sent by then-Cuban President Fidel Castro to spy in South Florida. The men, who are hailed as heroes in Cuba, were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents in the U.S. Two were previously released after finishing their sentences.

The exchange comes as the two countries are starting talks to restore full diplomatic relations. As part of the new policy, American Alan Gross also was released Wednesday from a Cuban prison. He was serving a 15-year sentence after being arrested in 2009 while working in the communist country to set up Internet access for the small Jewish community.

The U.S. officials said the unidentified U.S. spy provided information that led to the identification and conviction of Ana Belen Montes, a former senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency. She was arrested in 2001 on charges of spying for Cuba and is serving a 25-year prison sentence.
He also helped with the prosecution of retired State Department intelligence analyst Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn, who were convicted in 2010 of spying for Cuba for nearly 30 years and are serving life in prison without parole.

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