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Obama administration considering Cuba prisoner exchange?

The five Cuban American members of Congress are raising alarm over reports that the Obama administration is considering releasing a convicted Cuban spy in exchange for the release of an American imprisoned in Cuba.

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, Albio Sires and Sen. Bob Menendez today sent a letter Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concern over the reported release of Gerardo Hernandez, a convicted Cuban spy found guilty of conspiring to commit murder in the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot-down -- in exchange for the release of Alan Gross.

Ros-Lehtinen said the five hope to convince the administration "that any concessions to the Cuban regime, specifically a 'prisoner swap’ to release a convicted Cuban spy and murderer of American citizens, could have grave consequences for U.S. interests and for the safety of Americans abroad.

"The U.S. must be careful not to telegraph to rogue regimes that they may be able to successfully extort our government by abducting innocent Americans," she said.

Full text of the letter to Clinton and Holder

"Dear Madam Secretary and Mr. Attorney General:

 "We are seriously concerned about increasing reports that the Administration is conducting negotiations with the Castro regime to secure the release of Gerardo Hernandez, a convicted Cuban spy who was found guilty of conspiring to commit the February 24, 1996 murders of Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Pena, and Pablo Morales—three Americans and a U.S. resident.

"Furthermore, we have been informed that the Cuban regime is offering to return Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen wrongfully imprisoned by the Cuban dictatorship, in exchange for the release of Gerardo Hernandez.  While we continue to advocate for the release of Mr. Gross, we strongly disagree that the United States should
release a spy convicted in a U.S. court of law for committing these grave offenses against our country and its citizens in exchange for the release of a wrongfully imprisoned U.S. citizen.

"We would hope that these reports are unfounded. However, if they are accurate, we respectfully ask, for our nation’s security interests and the safety of all Americans traveling abroad, particularly to countries designated as state-sponsors of terrorism, that you immediately cease such efforts.

"Gerardo Hernandez, after availing himself of the full range of due process rights afforded by the U.S. judicial system, was convicted in 2001 of acting as an agent of the Cuban intelligence service and conspiracy to transmit national defense information to his Cuban masters.  Gerardo Hernandez was part of an espionage network that penetrated or sought to penetrate U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which plans and oversees operations of all U.S. military forces throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and Naval Air Station- Key West, where the network sought to secure detailed reports about the movement of
aircraft and military personnel and descriptions of the layout of the facility and its structures.

"Gerardo Hernandez was also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the shootdown of the two Brothers to the Rescue aircraft carrying Carlos, Armando, Mario and Pablo. As you know, these four men were conducting a search and rescue mission for Cuban refugees choosing to risk their lives at sea in search of freedom, rather than endure another day of oppression at the hands of the Cuban tyranny.  

"Mr. Alan Gross, by contrast, was engaged in efforts to help the Cuban people, specifically the Jewish community on the island, and has been imprisoned without access to legal recourse for his benign activities.

"We cannot allow such manipulation of the United States and such abuse of our citizens by the Cuban dictatorship. To allow this rogue regime to equate the activities of Mr. Gross with the reprehensible actions committed by convicted spy and murderer Gerardo Hernandez would set a precedent that could place more American citizens in grave danger by subjecting them to the whims of pariah states who will stop at nothing to extract concessions from the U.S. Government. 

"Madam Secretary, Mr. Attorney General, if the Administration is contemplating a reported 'swap' of Gerardo Hernandez for Mr. Alan Gross, we ask that you keep in mind the murders of Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Pena, and Pablo Morales; the grave consequences for U.S. law enforcement and homeland security; and the significant negative impact on short and long-term U.S. interests and immediately cease any activity in furtherance of such a 'swap.'