Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fidel Castro greets Pope Benedict XVI - but no jail pass for U.S. citizen Alan Gross

No freedom for Alan Gross, despite American diplomatic note to Vatican emissary

News sources say the meeting was brief and cordial. Neither the Vatican nor Cuba have issued an official statement, since the visit was regarded as personal. Fidel Castro turned over control of the nation to his brother Raúl in 200.

There is no indication that the men discussed the case of imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15 year sentence for state security crimes. Some had hoped that Benedict might ask the Cubans to release Gross, though the possibility of such appeared remote. The Associated Press reported today that the Obama administration filed a formal diplomatic request several days ago with the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, who is the equivalent of the Vatican's ambassador to the U.S. The request solicited the assistance of Pope Benedict during his meetings with Cuban officials. But a church spokesman said that although Benedict raised general humanitarian concerns and issues, they had not talked about "individual cases."

The U.S. has held five convicted Cuban spies since 1998, four of whom are still serving lengthy sentences in federal prisons. A fifth Cuban was paroled last Oct. 7 after spending 13 years behind bars. He asked to be allowed to rejoin his family in Havana, but a Miami judge denied the request. Recently the man was given a two week pass by the judge to visit his brother, who is dying of brain and lung cancer. With Benedict's tour at an end, the cases of the Miami Five Cubans and Alan Gross remain as hopelessly frozen as ever.

The pope did not see ailing Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez during his 50 hour visit to the island. Chávez returned to Havana last Saturday night to resume chemotherapy treatments, and will leave tomorrow. Some may be inclined to interpret this as a deliberate snub, but I doubt it was so intended. Chávez holds no position in the Cuban government, and happened to be present only to receive medical treatment. But since the fiery leftist president claims to be a devout Catholic and is suffering from cancer with a purportedly poor prognosis, it would still seem that a brief encounter might have been arranged.

In final remarks at the airport, Benedict told those who turned out to bid him farewell that "economic restrictions imposed from abroad have weighed heavily upon the people here." It was a thinly veiled condemnation of the over 50 year old U.S. embargo of the island.

The pontiff left Havana at about 5:30 p.m. today, in route to Rome.

Benedict and Fidel:
The real story of Alan Gross:
U.S. shows revolting double standard in René González case:
U.S. judge allows Miami Five member René González to visit his dying brother:
Hugo Chávez' condition in dispute after latest cancer treatment in Cuba:
50th anniversary of U.S. embargo of Cuba - Feb. 7, 2012:
Cuba - A paradigm for how not to conduct foreign policy:
Gingrich spews the same old Cold War rhetoric on Cuba:
Have a free drink at the Hemingway Bar in Washington, D.C.:

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