On Sunday night, CNN ran an interview with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in which he talked about Latin American affairs, including efforts to release American relief worker Alan Gross from Cuba. Kerry said he has "personally been involved" with efforts to release Gross.
Gross was accused of spying by the communist regime ruling Cuba. Andr Oppenheimer conducted the interview on CNN en Espanol.
Alan Gross has been in jail for I dont know how many years, Oppenheimer said. Gross has been in Cuban custody for four years. And do you see the back-door negotiations coming up to any results?
I truly hope so, Kerry said. I have personally been involved in them. My undersecretary of political affairs here in the department has been involved in them. The White House has been involved. We have all ... we have senators who have been involved individually. Weve been sharing information and sharing different ideas about how to do this. I personally engaged in this a number of years ago, even before becoming secretary of state. I was involved in trying to see if we could move that forward.
Its been disappointing that we cant, but I believe if and when we are able to advance it, it will be through personal and private diplomacy, Kerry added. Nobodys going to bludgeon this into what we need, and so we need to continue to stay focused.
And every day hes been there is too long, Kerry added. We want him to be released, and we think its a matter of humanitarian decency that he be released, but we will continue to work on this. And were very hopeful that the government of Cuba will see that this really works against Cubas interests, not for it, and I hope they will see the humanitarian interest in letting him be rejoined with his family.
Republicans have criticized the handshake between President Barack Obama and Cuban tyrant Raul Castro at Nelson Mandelas funeral. Last week, the Obama administration defended its stance on Cuba and its efforts to release Gross.
Grosss wife Judy appeared on Wolf Blitzers show on CNN earlier this month and urged Obama to ramp up his efforts to free her husband. She also said Obama could do much more than what he has done so far.
The Cubans have made it clear to me, I'm sure to you and to others, they want Cubans who are being held here in the United States, convicted of crimes, to be released, and there would be a sort of trade, Blitzer said. Your husband goes back to the United States, they go back to Cuba. Is that what -- is that's what -- is that what's holding up this freedom for Alan Gross?"
Well, you know, I have never heard the Cubans actually say that. I don't know if they've actually come out and said we want the Cubans in exchange for Alan Gross, Judy Gross replied. I met with the Cuban foreign minister the last time I was in Cuba, with other officials. And what they have said is they have been asking over and over and over again for the administration to send an envoy, to sit down with them, to start talking about these issues, and there's been no response.
What would you like President Obama to do? Blitzer asked.
I think you'd have to ask him what it takes, Judy Gross said. I want Obama to take Alan seriously, to take the situation seriously. He's the leader of the nation. He's the one who can go to the State Department and go to the Justice Department, whatever department is involved, and say, let's make this work. He could do it tomorrow if he -- if he wanted to.
I hope that President Obama will make this his personal responsibility, to get on this case and get Alan free, she added.
Besides Cuba, Oppenheimer also focused on recent elections in Venezuela. There were municipal elections in Venezuela over the weekend, Oppenheimer said. You mentioned that there have been efforts by you and the Obama administration to improve the relationship. Where does that stand, and in light of yesterdays of the recent elections in Venezuela, where is that going? Are you still hopeful, or are you reluctant, sort of?
Well, Im always hopeful, Kerry said. Im an optimist. Im in this job, and you have to be an optimist in this job. But Im hopeful anyway. Im hopeful because I dont think the elections changed very much fundamentally.
Were they free and fair? Oppenheimer asked.
The evidence is that they were there are some questions of irregularities, Kerry replied. I know that some of those have been asserted, but I think fundamentally, they were they met standards, but they didnt produce the kind of change that I think a number of people thought they might. Our hope is that the government will stop using our relationship as an excuse for not doing other things internally, and really opening up more to the people. We are concerned about the decree powers that have been exercised. We believe those decree powers present a question of potential abuse and reduction of rights of citizens to be able to have their voices heard. Theres increased negative attention on the media there, pressure, other kinds of things.
So we have concerns, Kerry continued. But again, I repeat, I reached out personally when we were in Bogota. We had a meeting with the foreign minister. It was supposed to be a 10-minute meeting; we met for about 45 minutes, and I tried as hard as I can to articulate the potential of a new opening of a relationship with the United States. As I said earlier, its been hard to see the uptake on that. We are ready and willing, and we are open to improving that relationship.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.