A delegation of U.S. lawmakers led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) returned from Cuba on Wednesday without jailed USAID subcontractor Alan Gross. The seven-member delegation left for Cuba on Monday with the intent of freeing Gross, who was arrested in 2009 for bringing communications equipment as part of a "democracy-promotion program" and is currently serving a 15-year sentence.
The lawmakers-including Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) from Gross' district in Maryland-met with Gross in prison, though they did not comment on his condition. The delegation also met with President Raúl Castro for three hours, according to Cuban government sources. Sen. Leahy said afterward that he and Castro "discussed the continuing obstacles and the need to improve relations," adding that that a rapprochement "is in the interest of both countries." The group also met with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla and Parliament President Ricardo Alarcón.
Other delegation members included Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA). Cuban officials have made it clear that there will be no progress on freeing Gross until the Cuban agents imprisoned in the U.S. for treason, known as the "Cuban Five," are let go. Despite the political stalemate and the unmoving embargo, engagement between high-level government officials from both countries can create opportunities for changing otherwise static policy.