Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, is rekindling calls for the release of a civilian U.S. government subcontractor who has been in jail in Cuba for five years.
The congresswoman, who came from Cuba and is one of Washington D.C.’s most vocal critics of the Castro government, said the subcontractor, Alan Gross, should be released immediately by Cuban officials.
“We should pressure the Castro regime so that Alan Gross is freed without preconditions,” said Ros-Lehtinen in a statement on her website.
The congressman stressed, however, that Gross’s release should not arise from any agreement by the United States to release three Cuban intelligence agents who are in jail in this country.
Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, expressed dismay over news reports that the Obama administration may be considering a swap of the convicted Cuban spies for Gross.
“It’s incredible that anyone can think it is a good idea to exchange Cuban spies,” she said, “who had enjoyed the constitutional protections afforded to them in the United States, for Alan Gross, who is a hostage of the Cuban regime…An exchange of spies, who jeopardized our national security, for Alan Gross is unjust and irresponsible.”
Ros-Lehtinen strongly condemned the Obama administration’s decision to swap five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo for an American soldier who has been held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for five years. Like other critics of the administration’s move, Ros-Lehtinen said that administration officials had been met with disapproval when they floated the idea for the swap to her and a few other members of Congress over the years.
“I can reaffirm that I, and many of my colleagues, strongly stated our opposition to any deal for Sgt. Bergdahl,” she said, “that would in any way benefit the Taliban or jeopardize the safety and security of our brave men and women in uniform who placed their lives on the line day in and day out to protect their fellow servicemen and women, our country, and our national security interests.”
Efforts by Fox News Latino to get a comment from the congresswoman on Thursday were unsuccessful.
In recent days, another spy, Fernando Gonzalez, who returned to Cuba in February after serving more than 15 years behind bars in the United States, said the controversial deal to secure the release of Bergdahl has a clear parallel to the cases of Gross and the three Cuban agents still imprisoned in the United States.
"It is obvious that the only thing needed is the will on the part of the U.S. government to bring about that swap or exchange," Gonzalez said in his first news conference back in Havana. "This latest development makes that clear."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington remains committed to winning release for any American citizens held overseas, but suggested that Gross' case is not comparable to that of a uniformed soldier captured in a war zone. U.S. officials have publicly been cool to the idea of a swap involving the Cuban agents for Gross.
"Nothing has changed in that case now," Psaki said.
Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2009 while working to set up hard-to-detect Internet networks for the island's tiny Jewish community as part of a U.S. government development contract.
He says his actions posed no threat to the Cuban state. But Havana considers such programs to be an affront to its sovereignty, and he was sentenced to 15 years.
For her part, Ros-Lehtinen said she holds little faith in statements by the Obama administration about its intentions regarding Gross.
She believes the administration is, in fact, considering swapping the remaining jailed Cuban spies for Gross.
“I seriously believe the administration is considering a swap,” Ros-Lehtinen said, according to The Miami Herald. “The administration has shown itself not to be faithful to the law and is not to be trusted.”
She pointed to assurances she said the administration gave two years ago to her and other members of Congress in a private intelligence briefing about Bowe Bergdahl and the idea of swapping five Taliban detainees to secure the U.S. serviceman’s release.
It is believed that Bergdahl willingly left the U.S. base and shortly after fell into the hands of the Taliban.
The congresswoman said she, House Speaker John Boehner and others at the closed-door meeting vehemently objected to the swap and the notion of hammering out a deal with terrorists.
“They said: ‘We hear you loud and clear.’ And two years later, what do we have?” she asked. “A prisoner swap.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.