Friday, June 24, 2011

Jailed American awaits Cuban court decision

Jailed American awaits Cuban court decision
By Jeff Franks

HAVANA | Thu Jun 23, 2011 5:37pm EDT

(Reuters) - Jailed U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross is awaiting a decision
on his case by Cuba's highest court and trying to stay strong while his
family's situation worsens back home, wife Judy Gross said Thursday.

A U.S. delegation recently visited him and said he appeared to be doing
well given the circumstances, but she told Reuters in a statement that
the truth is otherwise.

"Alan's health deteriorates daily; he has lost nearly 100 pounds. While
he is trying to make the best of a bad situation and put on a brave
face, the truth he is suffering tremendously," she said.

Apart from his own incarceration, his wife said Gross is deeply worried
about the couple's 26-year-old daughter, who had a double mastectomy due
to breast cancer in February, and his 89-year-old mother, who was
diagnosed with lung cancer at about the same time.

She did not mention it, but sources close to the family said Judy Gross
recently had surgery for an undisclosed ailment.

Gross, 62, has been jailed for 19 months and in March was sentenced to
15 years in prison for bringing Internet communications equipment to
Cuba under a secretive U.S. program promoting change on the communist

The case has brought U.S.-Cuba relations to a standstill after a brief
period of improvement under U.S. President Barack Obama, who eased U.S.
travel restrictions to Cuba and allowed a free flow of remittances to
the island.

Gross appealed the March conviction and, according to recent statements
by the head of Cuba's Supreme Court, the case is being deliberated. It
is not clear when a decision will be reached.

Gross and the U.S. government, which says he was only helping Jewish
groups and broke no law, are hoping the court will rule in his favor and
let him go home.

There have been odd hints that something is in the works, but nothing
confirmed or official.


The official Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted Supreme Court head Ruben
Remigio Ferro in May as saying, "There is a pending appeal and it is
being considered to grant a pardon or release on humanitarian grounds,
considering that his daughter and his mother are very sick."

The case, he was quoted as saying, "will be resolved in the shortest
time possible."

Last week, a dissident conducting a hunger strike to demand Gross'
release told Reuters that, after 79 days without food, he began eating
again after government officials assured him Gross would be freed within
two months.

The government has said little about Gross, but never misses an
opportunity to bring up five Cuban agents who it believes have been
unjustly jailed in the United States since 1998 on spying-related

Although it supposedly has never been discussed, most observers believe
Cuba would happily swap Gross for what it calls the Five Heroes.

Short of that, some believe it may be waiting for Obama to take
conciliatory steps before releasing Gross.

"I am still persuaded that the key to Alan's release is U.S.
acknowledgment that his actions were a crime under Cuban law and that
similar efforts funded by (U.S. agencies) will stop," said John McAuliff
of the New York-based Fund For Reconciliation and Development, which
advocates for better U.S.-Cuba relations.

Other actions such as removing Cuba from the list of
terrorism-sponsoring countries and further expanding U.S. travel
opportunities to Cuba could also help, he said.

With a difficult reelection campaign already under way, the likelihood
of Obama taking actions that could alienate the important Cuban American
vote in Florida appears to be small.

Cuban American leaders such as U.S. Senators Bob Menendez, a Democrat,
and Marco Rubio, a Republican, have complained that he has been too soft
on what they consider a despotic Cuban government.

In the meantime, said Judy Gross, "our family is increasingly devastated
by Alan's continued incarceration in Cuba."

She asked Cuban President Raul Castro "to find it in his heart to
release my husband on humanitarian grounds."

(Editing by Tom Brown and Eric Walsh)

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