Former President Bill Clinton called on the U.S. to cooperate with Cuba “wherever we can,” citing Cubans’ humanitarian efforts during the Ebola crisis as a model in an interview in conjunction with the Clinton Foundation’s “Future of the Americas” summit in Miami.
But Clinton warned the Cuban government that it is “playing a dangerous game” with Alan Gross, a 65-year-old American government contractor who has been imprisoned on the island for more than five years.
Asked by Fusion’s Jorge Ramos if it’s time for the U.S. to lift its trade embargo against Cuba, Clinton said “I think as a matter of policy it would still be a good thing to do–to integrate Cuba better.”
For all the political problems between the two nations, Clinton said he has seen “a different side of Cuba as a private citizen.”
“We worked together in Haiti, where the Cubans have made a major contribution to Haiti’s recovery from the earthquake,” he said. “I’ve seen the Cubans rush around the world to help with the Ebola crisis.”
Clinton, however, cited the U.S.’s inability to secure the Gross’ release as an impediment to improving relations. Gross was arrested just over five years ago on espionage charges. His physical and mental health have rapidly deteriorated while in prison, according to his family. President Obama told Ramos this week that the U.S. has been “in conversations” to free Gross.
Ramos asked Clinton whether he would recommend a prisoner swap to secure Gross’ release. The U.S. government has rejected talk of a swap involving three Cuban intelligence officers convicted of espionage. The officers were part of a group known as the Cuban Five.
“Nobody questions their guilt and what they were charged with,” said of the Cubans in U.S. custody. “Gross was down there supporting a Non-governmental organization. We don’t need to spy on Cuba. So I don’t see how, since two of the five people they wanted released have been released.
“I think they’re playing a very dangerous game to hold Gross where his health is getting worse,” Clinton added. “He has people in his family who are sick, this thing could set back everything that they could hope to achieve for years. So I wish we can figure out some way to release him.”
The Clinton Foundation’s “Future of the Americas” summit brought together business, non-profit, educational, and political leaders to improve cooperation on key issues facing the Western Hemisphere. The full interview will air on Fusion’s “AMERICA with Jorge Ramos” Tuesday, Dec. 16 at 10 p.m.