No end in sight for American imprisoned in Cuba
By Jeff Franks Jeff Franks –
Thu Dec 2, 11:43 am ET HAVANA (Reuters) – A year after security agents took him into custody at the Havana airport, U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross remains behind bars in Cuba, with no resolution in sight for a case that halted a brief thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.
Gross, 61, is desperate to get home to help his daughter, who is in her twenties and was diagnosed with cancer this summer, but there has been little or no progress reported in what have been at best sketchy talks between Washington and Havana.
U. S. officials say they have requested Gross' release on a number of occasions, but have never received a response or an explanation of the case against him. He is said to have lost 90 pounds and suffers several health problems.
Cuban officials have accused Gross, detained on December 3 last year, of illegally bringing in satellite communications equipment and perhaps spying during what his family has said were five trips to the island in the nine months before his arrest.
His work was funded by a U.S. program promoting political change in Cuba. But Washington has said Gross was merely a do-gooder spreading Internet access to the country's small Jewish community.
Jewish leaders in Cuba publicly deny any knowledge of Gross, but some in the community say they knew him.
Gross, currently being held in a cell at a Havana military hospital, has not been officially charged with a crime and remains under investigation, Cuban Attorney General Dario Delgado told reporters on November 23.
He did not explain the delay, but said "There's no problem. Everything moves ahead as was foreseen ... it's a normal case."
Peter Kahn, Gross' attorney in Washington, disagreed in a statement issued Wednesday.
"Alan's incarceration for a year without clarity of the legal process he will face or its timing is a travesty. It violates every international standard of justice and due process," Kahn said.
"We continue to urge the Cuban authorities to release Alan immediately based on humanitarian grounds, as well as the fact that he has already served one year in prison," he said.
NO NEW INITIATIVES
If the Cubans are holding him in hopes of gaining concessions from the United States, they have not said so publicly. But it is widely believed they would like to trade him for five Cuban agents imprisoned in the United States for spying or perhaps U.S. assurances that the kind of program he worked for will be shut down.
The United States spends millions of dollars every year on programs it says are aimed at promoting democracy in Cuba. Cuban leaders, however, view them as attempts to subvert the communist-led government installed after a 1959 revolution.
The United States has said it wants Gross freed without conditions and until he is released, will undertake no new initiatives to improve relations with the Caribbean island.
Prior to his arrest, relations had warmed slightly as U.S. President Barack Obama eased the 48-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and the two countries launched talks on migration and postal service issues.
A major stumbling block to Gross' freedom is that his case is inextricably bound up in the long history of animosity between Cuban exiles and the government they fled.
Politically powerful Cuban-American leaders oppose concessions of almost any kind to President Raul Castro and his older brother, Fidel Castro, who led the revolution and then ran Cuba for 49 years before stepping down in 2008.
When rumors of a possible swap involving Gross and the five agents surfaced this summer, five Cuban-American members of Congress fired off a letter to Obama urging him to drop the idea. The government later said a swap was not being considered.
Similarly, they opposed a widely leaked administration plan to ease U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba, which was seen as a gesture to the Cuban government that might help Gross.
"This is not the time to ease pressure on the Castro regime," said U.S. Senator Frank Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
The plan was never announced and its fate is unknown.
The lack of action on Gross' behalf has exasperated those who support a change in U.S.-Cuba policy and who expected more of Obama.
They accuse him of caving in to Cuban-American pressure for political reasons, at Gross' expense.
"Alan and the others are foot-soldier casualties of an anachronistic war based on the loss and anger of exiles," said John McAuliff of the New York-based Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which works to foster better U.S.-Cuba relations.
Gross's wife Judy also has complained about Obama's inaction and wrote a letter to Raul Castro expressing her and her husband's remorse for his work in Cuba.
In a recent op-ed piece in the Miami Herald, she called on Obama and Castro to "change the tide of bilateral relations."
"Do not make Alan's case an excuse to fall further apart but rather an example of a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations," she wrote.
(Editing by Jane Sutton and Paul Simao)
Los Angeles, California
"Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"