Biden to Cuban media: Alan Gross detention a key obstacle in diplomatic relations
(CNN) — Vice President Joe Biden sat down with a Cuban media outlet – a significant move given the decades-long tension between the United States and Cuba since the countries ended diplomatic relations more than 50 years ago.
In the interview published Tuesday, Biden cited the detention of Alan Gross, an American serving a 15-year sentence as a key obstacle in improving relations.
Biden made his comments to 14ymedio, a recently launched digital newspaper created by Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban blogger and fierce critic of the governments of Raul and Fidel Castro.
“I cannot emphasize enough that Cuba’s continued detention of Alan Gross is a major impediment to improved relations between the United States and Cuba,” Biden said, according to a translation provided by his office.
Gross was convicted in 2011 for bringing satellite communications equipment into the country as part of his work as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
U.S. officials have said Gross was simply trying to help Cubans bypass their government’s stringent restrictions on Internet access.
“We can be as creative as we like with our policy, but Alan’s case remains at the top of our list for resolution. He deserves to come home, and should be released on humanitarian grounds,” Biden said.
President Barack Obama also answered questions from Sánchez in 2009, which she posted to her blog.
In that interview, Obama responded to a question regarding allegations that his administration was attempting to undermine Cuban authority, throwing cold water on the notion that the United States had plans to invade the island.
“I can give you the simplest of answers, and that answer is no. Just as President Obama said,” Biden said when asked about those concerns. “These accusations are a relic of the distant past. They are being used to strike fear into the hearts of decent Cubans who might otherwise focus on problems closer to home.”
Sánchez’s journalistic venture was, until Sunday, blocked by users in Cuba. Since the publication’s launch last week, for a few days, users were redirected to website apparently dedicated to slamming Sánchez and government dissidents, according to the Miami Herald.
The interview with Biden took place in April, as Sánchez notes in the article, while she was in Washington.
Further stoking fears in the Cuban government that Washington is trying to subvert its authority are accusations that the U.S. government tried to flood communications networks with the creation of a cell phone-based “Cuban Twitter,” known as ZunZuneo.
The program, which ended in 2012, allowed Cubans to message each other free of Cuban government restrictions on communications and allowed U.S. government officials to send mass messages to Cubans.
CNN’s Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.
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