Saturday, July 31, 2010

U.S. urges Cuba to free unwell detained contractor

U.S. urges Cuba to free unwell detained contractor
Posted Friday July 30, 2010 1 day ago
By Linda Hutchinson

PORT OF SPAIN (Reuters) - The United States urged Cuba on Friday to free
a U.S. contractor held in Havana for nearly eight months on suspicion of
espionage and subversion, saying he was unwell and had still not been
formally charged.

The arrest of Alan Gross, 60, at Havana's airport in December has added
another bone of contention between the U.S. government and
communist-ruled Cuba, obstructing moves to thaw half a century of
confrontation and hostility.

Havana says Gross, who worked for a Washington-area company contracted
under a U.S.-funded program to promote democracy in Cuba, committed
"serious crimes" in aiding U.S. efforts to destabilize the Cuban government.

Cuban officials said Gross gave restricted satellite communications
equipment to local dissidents. U.S. officials say he was providing
Internet access to Jewish groups after entering Cuba on a tourist visa.

"We consider the arrest of Alan Gross ... to be an unacceptable act. He
was not violating any laws and has not been charged as far as I know,"
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Arturo
Valenzuela, told a news conference in Trinidad and Tobago, where he was

"He is not well, he has lost 80 pounds (36 kg), it's been more than six
months (since his arrest) and we're encouraging the Cuban government to
release him," he said.

Gross has been held at Villa Marista state security headquarters in
Havana. Cuban officials say he has been assured defense counsel, has
received consular assistance from U.S. diplomats and has been able to
communicate with his family.

Cuban President Raul Castro's government has started releasing the first
of 52 Cuban political prisoners to be freed under a recent deal struck
with the Roman Catholic Church.

The United States, along with many other foreign governments, has
cautiously welcomed this move, but has demanded the release of all
political detainees.

President Barack Obama's administration has made clear that its modest
efforts so far to improve U.S.-Cuban ties will be put on hold as long as
Gross remains detained.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this month that Washington
was working "every single day through every channel" to obtain Gross'
release and safe return home.

Some analysts have speculated that Cuba may want to use the detained
U.S. contractor as a bargaining chip to try to secure release of five
convicted Cuban intelligence agents serving long U.S. sentences for

The U.S. government linked the five to Havana's 1996 shoot-down of
private planes piloted by Cuban exiles near Cuba.

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