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Is it time for Obama to simply ask Cuba's President Castro to free Alan Gross?

US officials are proposing new measures to force Cuba to release USAID worker Alan Gross from prison, but guest blogger Anya Landau French suggests trying something different.

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If pounding our fists on the table doesn’t work, public shaming – as employed by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson on his last trip to Cuba – doesn’t work any better.  But so far, informed, diplomatic requests haven’t done the trick either, though that approach has enabled several American delegations to visit Gross personally in prison. (Richardson had hoped to meet with Gross and with Raul Castro, but got neither.)  The latest group, the National Council of Churches, just met with both Gross and President Castro – though if they spoke to Castro about Gross, Cuban television covering the meeting didn’t say.

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All that really leaves is good old-fashioned in-good-faith negotiations.  The US and Cuba ought to be set up for that these days, after the two sides agreed two years ago to restart biannual migration talks, and to explore other mutual concerns such as direct mail service and the environment. Each side has renewed access to diplomats in each other's countries, but what’s really missing is an unmistakable and unshakeable signal from the top –perhaps on both sides –that there is a willingness to actually negotiate, to give up important, game-changing ground, even if it’s not exactly what we or they wanted.

On the US side, State Department officials have been clear that they won’t exchange five Cuban agents serving lengthy US prison terms for Gross.  At best the US – allegedly – offered to let one of the Five who was released after serving some 13 years in prison complete his supervised release in Cuba, and to start “a process” to remove Cuba from the terrorism list ('a' process or 'the' process?).  Judging from Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon’s scoffing reaction, the idea fell flat. " . . . I can't believe someone would seriously think that there could be a negotiation between Rene Gonzalez ... a man who was about to complete his sentence ... and a man who is just about to start serving his . . . "  And if Cuba wanted to end the US government program for which Gross worked (Cuba considers it a regime change program, based as it is in legislation crafted to bring an end to the Castro government), the US shows no sign of giving that up either.

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