HAVANA - Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced he would be leaving Havana Tuesday not just empty handed, but without even seeing U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross, imprisoned by Cuba for nearly two years.
"I'm leaving because I've exhausted all possible channels", he said. Richardson said he'd met with the Cuban foreign minister and deputy minister, Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega and diplomats during his week here but got nowhere
In an impromptu press conference, Richardson said he was "disappointed and perplexed" and put forth the possibility "that the Cuban Government has made a decision not improve relations with the United States."
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Richardson reiterated that he was in Cuba as a private citizen and not representing the U.S. Government, although he spoke with the State Department before he came and had its full support. He noted that just this morning President Obama voiced support for his efforts.
Obama told journalists in Washington Tuesday that "Richardson is acting as a private citizen on an humanitarian mission to try to free Gross. Anything to get Mr. Gross free we will support, although Mr. Richardson does not represent the US government in his actions there."
The former governor insisted that he had been invited here by the Cuban Government, told to come after September 1. He said they told him Alan Gross would be on the agenda. And, Richardson said, he couldn't understand why he was not being allowed to see Gross when other Americans had been given that opportunity.
Richardson also said his request to see President Raul Castro was turned down.
Nevertheless, Richardson said that he told Cuban officials, if Gross were released, many areas of bilateral cooperation would open up.
Continuing the press conference in Spanish, Richardson said he felt "deceived" by the refusal of the Cubans to "even discuss Gross" and said despite the fact that he has had a good relationship with the Cuban Government for many years, he hasn't "been treated as a friend" on this occasion.
Richardson said he doubted he'd be back to Cuba.
Gross was arrested in December 2009 and sentenced last March to 15 years in prison for bringing illegal communications equipment into Cuba as part of a program subcontracted to his employer by USAID. The Cubans say this program and others like it are intended to overthrow throw their government.
Richardson said he had promised Gross' wife Judy he would visit him and felt it was extremely important to do that as Gross' health has reportedly deteriorated. Gross has lost 100 pounds and has lesions on his arms according to a U.S. consular official who has recently see him.