Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson arrived in Cuba today to try to win the release of American contractor Alan Gross, who has been detained there since December 2009.
“We are a aware of Gov. Richardson’s trip to Cuba and have been in contact with him,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said. ”While Gov. Richardson is traveling as private citizen, we certainly support his efforts to obtain Alan Gross’s release.”
Nuland said there are no U.S. officials traveling with the former governor, who has also served as the American Ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. Congressman, and U.S. Energy Secretary, and he is not carrying any official messages from the administration.
Gross worked as a contractor for the United States Agency for International Development and was detained in Cuba in December 2009 after distributing satellite communications equipment to the island’s Jewish population without permission from the Cuban government. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison earlier this year, and Cuba’s Supreme Court upheld the decision last month.
Gross’ lawyer Peter Kahn said that he and the Gross family are hopeful the Cuban government will release him.
“We are pleased that the Cuban government invited Governor Richardson to Havana,” Kahn said in a statement on behalf of the family. “We welcome any and all dialogue that ultimately will result in Alan’s release. We are grateful to Governor Richardson for his continued efforts. We hope that the Governor and Cuban authorities are able to find common ground that will allow us to be reunited as a family before the Jewish High Holy Days.”
Gross’ family has appealed for his release on humanitarian grounds. He suffers from diabetes and is said to have lost a lot of weight in prison. His wife and daughter have also had medical problems in the past year.
Richardson, who attempted a presidental run in 2008, has previously secured the release of several other Americans detained abroad. In 1996 he negotiated the release of an American pilot who, along with other Red Cross workers, had been taken hostage in Sudan. In 2008 he won the release of an American journalist detained in Sudan. He has also secured the release of Americans in Iraq and North Korea and was involved in discussions to release Americans held in Colombia and Kashmir.