Detained American a Sticking Point in Cuba Talks
Posted by Portia Siegelbaum
An undated family photo Alan Gross with his wife, Judy. Gross, 60, an
international development worker and U.S. government contractor from
Potomac, Md., was arrested in Cuba on Dec. 3. He has been held at
Havana's high-security Villa Marista jail without charge for allegedly
supplying communication equipment to members of Cuba's tiny Jewish
(Credit: AP Photo/Family HO)
The case of Alan Gross, an American contractor imprisoned for more than
six months in Cuba on suspicion of espionage, is expected to torpedo
today's round of migration talks between Washington and Havana.
The latest round of talks — the third since President Obama took office
— should monitor compliance with the 16-year accord intended to maintain
orderly migration from Cuba to the United States. Other issues on the
table include a U.S. request for restrictions on diplomatic travel in
the respective countries to be lifted; and Cuba wants to increase the
number of persons on its consular staff in the U.S.
However, after meeting with Gross wife and other family members on
Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed calls for the
contractor's release. Clinton said U.S. officials would raise his case
during today's talks in Washington, and tell the Cubans attending that
his release would help improve bilateral relations.
"We will underscore that the continued detention of Alan Gross is
harming U.S.-Cuba relations," she said in a statement released after her
Gross' detention upset the second round of migration talks last February
in Havana. The talks were further undermined when the U.S. delegation
met with Cuban dissidents at Farrar's residence, provoking a sharp
reaction from the Cuban Government.
Gross is accused of providing prohibited satellite communications
equipment (known as a B-gan) to Cuban dissidents. U.S. officials have
said he was only providing Internet access to Jewish groups, but admit
that Gross was employed by a U.S.-funded program to promote democracy on
the island. The head of the Jewish community in Havana, Adela Dworin,
denies any knowledge of Gross and says that recognized international
Jewish organizations have provided them with legal Internet connections.
In a press conference this week, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez
said Gross was arrested for "committing grave crimes in our country at
the service of the subversive policy of the United States against Cuba."
He indicated that Gross was still under investigation and that his legal
status was in strict conformity "with Cuban legal procedures." U.S.
consular officials have had repeated access to him, and he was offered
legal representation and allowed to speak with his family, said Rodriguez.
The migration talks began after the two countries hammered out an accord
to end the 1994 mass exodus by rafters. Under the accord, Washington
agreed to issue 20,000 visas annually for Cubans to migrate to the U.S.
President George W. Bush unilaterally cancelled these talks in 2004, but
they were resumed by the Obama administration, along with its lifting of
severe restrictions on Cuban-Americans' travel to the island.
In a recent informal conversation with CBS News, the head of the U.S.
Interests Section in Havana, Jonathan Farrar, expressed satisfaction
with the fact that not only is the U.S. issuing these visas but that the
number of temporary visas being issued was up, from 9,000 in 2008 to
20,000 in 2009.
Another thorny issue that has come up repeatedly in these talks is
Cuba's demand that Washington abolish its "wet foot, dry foot" policy
that gives preferential treatment to any Cuban who makes it illegally to
U.S. soil. The Cubans charge that this law encourages people to
undertake the dangerous voyage across the Florida Straits in flimsy
crafts. However, the law has strong support among the Cuban-American
community in Miami and can be expected to remain a sticking point in
CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum reported from Havana.