HAVANA (AP) — Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is keeping up his quest to visit an American subcontractor jailed in Cuba for nearly two years, despite rebuffs from Cuban officials.
Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations with a long history of winning prisoner releases around the world, was hunkered down at the capital's Nacional hotel on Tuesday, waiting for a response to his demand to visit Maryland native Alan Gross in a military hospital where the 62-year-old is being held.
The U.S. politician, who had previously enjoyed warm relations with Cuban leaders, arrived in Cuba last week amid high hopes he might be able to negotiate Gross' release. But those were dashed when Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said he could not even meet with the man, let alone take him home.
Richardson has vowed to stay in Cuba until he sees Gross, joking that he is looking forward to watching some of the Cuban baseball season, which begins in November.
Richardson said Monday that he had had no further meetings with Cuban officials. On Tuesday he called a news conference for the afternoon, but it was not clear whether there would be any news.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said President Barack Obama's administration has remained in touch with Richardson.
"We very much regret that he has not been able to meet with Alan Gross," she told reporters in Washington.
Still, she said Richardson's trip wasn't a wasted effort.
"It certainly underscored the plight of Mr. Gross," she said.
Gross was sentenced to 15 years in jail for crimes against the state after he was caught illegally bringing communications equipment onto the island while on a USAID-funded democracy building program. Cuba says the programs aim to bring down the government; Gross contends he was only trying to help the island's tiny Jewish community get Internet access.
Efforts have grown in recent months to seek Gross' release on humanitarian grounds. Those who have visited him say he has lost 100 pounds (45 kilos) in jail, and his 27-year-old daughter and elderly mother both are battling cancer back in the United States.
The case has crippled attempts to improve relations between Washington and Havana, and the treatment of Richardson by Cuban officials is sure to be a fresh blow.
The drama surrounding Richardson will have a lasting effect on perceptions in Washington, said Joe Garcia, a Miami-based former Obama administration appointee who has long known Richardson and frequently worked on Cuba-related issues.
"For elements in the Cuban regime to try to embarrass one of the senior American leaders in foreign policy either leads one to think no one is in control, or those that are in control are trying to work against finding any positive solutions," Garcia said.
"Bill Richardson is one of the most experienced public figures in American foreign policy. ... This isn't some guy who just swam ashore and said 'I'm here to get Gross.'"
The countries can't even seem to connect on relatively mundane issues, like twice-yearly talks on migration and less-regular discussions they are meant to have on mail service. The last time they met on either issue was in January, and a new round that had been expected in July never happened. No new dates for either talks have been announced.
Associated Press writers Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.
Paul Haven can be reached at www.twitter.com/paulhaven
- Cuban officials