|Josefina Vidal, head of North American Dept. Minrex|
Transcription of Interview with Josefina Vidal, head of North American division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by CNN´s Anchor Wolf Blitzer May 10, 2012
Wolf Blitzer: Josefina Vidal is joining us from Havana. She´s the head of the North American affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Are you prepared to tell us what you want in exchange for the release of Alan Gross
Josefina Vidal: Wolf, thank you for having me in your program.
We have conveyed to the US Government our willingness to have a dialogue to try to solve all our problems and to normalize relations between our two countries.
In this specific case, we have made clear to the US Government, as you´ve said, that we are ready to have a negotiation in order to try to find a solution, a humanitarian solution, to Mr. Gross case on a reciprocal basis. We´re not advancing any specific formula, it has to be disccused with the US Government because the US Government has a direct responsiblity for the situation of Mr. Alan Gross.
But, again, we have been waiting for a response on the side of the US Government on this specific matter.
WB: So, there are no active discussion or negotiation under way right now between the Cuban government and the US government to try to free Alan Gross?
Josefina Vidal: We have conveyed to the US side that we are ready to sit down to talk and to have a negotiation on this matter. And, as I mentioned already to you, we have been waiting for a response. We are ready to do that.
WB: Is there, from your perspective, is there a linkeage between the release of Alan Gross and the release of what´s called the Cuban Five?
JV: Again, we are not advancing a specific solution, a specific formula. It has to be discussed among us. But definitively, Cuba has legitimate concerns, humanitrarian concerns related to the situation of the Cuban Five.
WB: What do you say in response to what the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, told CNN?
You know, Mr Gross was not working in Cuba as a volunteer, aid worker. He was detained in Cuba because of conducting a well-financed program by the US Goverment aimed at provoking changes in Cuba, attempting against Cuba´s constitutional order. So, Mr. Gross, when he was detained he was a professional under the contract by the US Government trying to implement this program financed by some US agencies.
WB: What evidences do you have that he was doing that?
He was convicted for violating Cuban laws, attempting agaisnt Cuba´s constitutional order, it´s not just a crime in Cuba, it´s also a crime in the United States and in many other countries. And this is the reason why he was convicted, for attempting against our independence, against our constitutional order.
WB: Mr. Gross told me that when he brought all the equipment in, the people at the airport, the authorities saw the equipment, and they said “you have to pay duties, a 100%”, you don´t want to pay a 100%, so, they just said “pay a hundred dollars and you can bring the equipments in”, they inspected all the cell-phones, and all of the satellites phones, whatever he was bringing in and allowed him to bring it in to the country, as a result he says he does not undertand why he was arrested?
It has been written in some media reports, Mr Gross misled US, Cuban authorities about the kind of equipment he was introducing into the country without the proper authorities and he also misled members of the Cuban Jewish community about the purpose of his trips to Cuba and what he was doing in Cuba.
WB: Alan Gross says his 90 years old dying mother from cancer in Texas right now, she can´t travel, she can´t get in an airplane, he would like to spend two weeks and he promises he would come back to Cuba if you let him say goodbye to his mother. What´s wrong with that?
JV: In the case of Alan Gross, he started to serve his prison term three years ago and the conditions under he is now does not allow him to go outside of Cuba.
WB: Even for humanitarian reasons to visit his 90-year old mother who has cancer and is dying, are you open at all to let him say goodbye to her?
In the case of Mr. Gross, we have guaranteed for him a good treatment as he himself has told you. He is in good shape. He receives specialized medical treatment, balanced meals. He receives visits, regular consular access and visits by friends, by religious and political leaders from the US and other countries and we have facilitated for their families and friends all the visits they have requested so far.
WB: What do you think of President Obama and his efforts inthe past three and a half years to reach out and try to improve the relations between the United States and Cuba?
This is our position. I mean, for many years the Cuban government have conveyed to the US side our willingness to have a comprehensive political dialogue with the United States to solve all our historical problems and to move on in order to have a productive, beneficial relationship for the benefit of our both peoples. And this is our position, we have reiterated that to the US government and we are continuing willing to have the possibility to see that future for our two countries.
WB: Is there any dialogue under way right now between your government and the Obama administration?
We have had talks in the last two, three years. As soon as the new president, President Obama took office, some level of official dialogue that suffered a lot during the previous administrations, was reestablished. We have had our bi-annual Migration Talks and we have conveyed in those meetings the position I’ve just described to you about Cuba’s willingness – for the best of our two countries – to find a civilized modus vivendi with the United States.
WB: Are you hopeful, are you optimistic that relationship will improve over the next few months?
We are always hopeful. We have been waiting for that moment for more than 50 years, but we are still strong believers that this future is possible for the good and the benefit of the US, of Cuba, of both our mutual national interests and for our peoples.
WB: Based on my conversations with very US high officials, Mrs Vidal, I can tell you that if you were to make a gesture and release Alan Gross who served already two and a half years, that would go a long way in setting the stage to improve US Cuba relationship.
In that regard, I have to be honest with you, Wolf, and tell you that we see this statement as a new pretext by the US side in order not to move on our bilateral relationship. We have seen all over our history that any time one pretext disappears, there is another one ready at hand in order to try to justify not normalizing relations with Cuba.
WB: It sounds like a relatively easy situation for you to test the United Startes, send Alan Gross home, and see what happens, is there not improvement, what is your loss?
JV: As I mentioned you in the beginning of our interview, this is something that Cuba cannot do unilaterally because there is a responsibility by the United States government for the situation of Mr. Alan Gross, so this is a topic, this is a matter, an issue that has to be discussed directly between Cuba and the United States in order to look for a solution.
WB: And you´re saying United States is not ready to discuss Alan Gross´situation with Cuba? Is that what you say?
We have been waiting for a response and a reaction by the United States government to what we have conveyed about our willingness to sit down to have a conversation and to initiate a negotiation on that matter.
WB: Josefina, thank you very much for joining us.
JV: It is my pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.