Reaction Of Senator Patrick Leahy To The Release Of Alan Gross And Transforming U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

[Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt., president pro tempore of the Senate, and chairman of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee) has long sought the release of Alan Gross and has visited him twice in the prison where he has been held for five years.  Leahy also has led in efforts over the years for fundamental changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba, including pushing for an end to the law that prevents most Americans from visiting Cuba.  Leahy Wednesday morning went to Cuba with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Judy Gross, and others, to bring Alan Gross home.]

“Today President Obama and President Raul Castro made history.  After 54 years of animosity rooted in the Cold War, they have finally put our two countries on a new path.  I congratulate them both.

“President Obama has done the right thing, and the courageous thing, in gaining the release of Alan Gross after five long years in a Cuban jail.  Alan Gross was acting on behalf of the U.S. government when he was arrested, and our government – his government – had a responsibility to bring him home.  By taking further steps to change a policy that is a relic of the Cold War, that has achieved none of its goals, and that has isolated the United States, the President has wisely charted a new course that serves our national interests in this hemisphere and the world.  Our policies, frozen in time, have disserved the nation and have failed utterly and abysmally in achieving their original goals.

“I worked steadily for two years to help obtain the release of Alan Gross.  I visited him twice in Cuba.  Tim Rieser of my staff met with him two other times and spoke with him by phone weekly over a period of many months.  From discussions with Judy Gross, I know the pain and heartache and worry that Alan’s imprisonment has meant for her and for their two daughters.  I met twice with President Raul Castro, with Foreign Minister Rodriquez, and with other Cuban officials about Mr. Gross.  I discussed his case many times with President Obama, Secretary Kerry and other U.S. officials, and I thank them for what they have accomplished. 

“Alan Gross has rightly been released on humanitarian grounds.  In addition, the Cuban Government has also released a Cuban national who has been imprisoned in Cuba for many years in exchange for three Cubans who have served long sentences in the United States.  Those who would criticize the President for releasing the Cubans should review their cases.  An objective review of the facts and the law raises serious questions about the adequacy of the trial and the length of their sentences.  The Cubans committed crimes and deserved to be punished, but as someone who was a prosecutor for eight years and the chairman or ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than 18 years, I can see as others do that their cases are not an example of American justice to be proud of. 

“Six decades after the start of the U.S. embargo, Cuba remains a country where dissent is severely punished.  Many brave Cubans have been imprisoned for political reasons.  We all want to see a free Cuba whose citizens can choose their leaders, have unimpeded access to information, and criticize their government without fear.  But like President Obama and a majority of Americans, I have long recognized that unilateral sanctions have failed completely, and that democratic change will more likely come through a policy of normal diplomatic relations and open engagement with the Cuban people. 

“Those who cling to a failed policy that did nothing to help Alan Gross, and who may oppose the President’s actions, have nothing to offer but more of the same.  That would serve neither the interests of the United States and its people, nor of the Cuban people.  It is time for a change.”

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