“We don’t want to tell them what to do,” a senior U.S. government official said. “They have not told us that they wouldn’t do it. It’s more of a question of how and when . . . They have said that they are interested in the case and they would see what they could do.”
But there’s no guarantee. “Certainly neither the Cubans nor the Vatican want to make this a centerpiece of the visit,” the senior U.S. official said. A Vatican spokesman did not respond to an interview request, and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment.
Inevitably, Gross’s case has become ever more entangled in the long, intractable standoff between the United States and Cuba. Havana has sought for years to win the release of five Cuban intelligence agents convicted in U.S. courts in 2001 of spying. The faces of the Cuban Five appear on billboards in Havana, and they are relentlessly promoted as heroes by the Castro government. When Leahy was in Havana, he said a Cuban publication ran a full-page notice that read: “Obama Give Me Five.”
In discussions with high-ranking U.S. officials, the Cubans have alluded to a possible prisoner swap, a senior U.S. government official said. “Over time, they’ve made even more direct connections to releasing the Cuban Five — all five,” the government official said. “If they’re really going five for one . . . is that a reciprocal humanitarian gesture?”
Four of the Cuban Five remain imprisoned in the United States, and one — Rene Gonzalez — is on parole after being released, serving as a caretaker at an undisclosed location in the United States, according to his lawyer, Philip Horowitz. On March 19, a U.S. district court judge in Miami granted Gonzalez permission — despite the objections of federal prosecutors — to travel to Cuba to visit his brother, who is suffering from cancer.
“I empathize with Rene Gonzalez’s need to visit a dying family member and am pleased that he has been granted permission for a temporary visit,” Judy Gross said in a statement.
‘No solace at all’
She keeps her husband’s letters, written in longhand on lined, yellow paper, stuffed in an old Amazon.com box and tucked away. “They’re no solace at all,” she said. “Just makes me feel more for him.” After much prompting, she agreed to pull them out for a few moments and to read a single line aloud: “Please send letters, M&Ms, sunflower seeds, almonds.”
Visiting him in Cuba isn’t much solace either. “It’s a strain,” she said. “We’re in this little room. We know we have no privacy, and they’re taping and watching.”
Once, the Cubans allowed them to stay in a private house, but that was “weird, too — a guard sitting in every room,” she said. When she walked outside to the garden, there was another guard, and she found her eyes drawn to his holstered sidearm.
In his cell, Alan Gross has figured out exactly how many circles he has to walk to reach a mile. They’ve given him a television, and he’s become a fan of Cuban baseball.
And he’s learning a little Spanish, too — mostly curse words.