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12/05/2013

A tale of five prisoners – and no progress

Billboard

 

 A billboard in Cuba (whose slogan says, "They will return") is dedicated to the Cuban Five, a group of agents seen as heroes by the Caribbean island's government.

The score in Cuba-U.S. relations remains stuck at 4-1.

In other words, the Americans have four incarcerated Cubans under their power, while the Cubans have a single American in similar straits.

It’s pretty clear the Cubans would like to discuss a swap.

“The Cuban government reiterates its readiness to immediately establish a dialogue with the United States government to find a solution to the case … on a reciprocal basis and which addresses the humanitarian concerns of Cuba relating to the case of the four Cuban anti-terrorist fighters in prison in the United States,” Josefina Vidal Ferreiro said the other day.

She’s director-general of the Cuban foreign ministry.

The four Cubans she refers to are the remaining members of the so-called Cuban Five, a group of men convicted of espionage-related offences in Florida in 2001. They were spying on anti-Castro groups rather than official U.S. organizations, but they were nonetheless sentenced to penalties of breath-taking severity.

The four are Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, and Fernando González. A fifth member of the group, René González, has been released.

The American in the story is Alan Gross, 64, an international development contractor who was convicted in 2011 of providing satellite communications equipment to members of the small Jewish community in Havana. He has been in jail since his arrest in 2009.

Washington rejects any suggestion of a prisoner exchange, demanding that Gross be freed without conditions.

And there the matter rests, with relations between the two neighbouring countries locked in the same metaphorical straitjacket that has stymied all efforts at political accommodation for the past 54 years – and counting.

Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.

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