HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government yesterday dismissed the possibility of it making any “unilateral” humanitarian gesture towards the United States over the case of imprisoned US communications contractor Alan Gross, as Washington requested earlier in the week, reported DPA news.
The US has no right to demand that Cuba make a unilateral concession on the Gross case “since Washington is the party responsible for his situation,” said the director of the North American Affairs Department of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal. “The appropriate solution must be sought in conjunction with the US government,” she added.
Cuba has reiterated on several occasions that it is “ready” to negotiate Gross’s release for a possible exchange for the “Cuban Five” (five Cuban agents who have been serving long prison terms in the United States since 1998 on espionage charges).
Washington, however, refuses to link the two cases.
Gross, 63, marked his third year of imprisonment on December 3. Over the last several days, his relatives and several US politicians stepped up their campaign by calling on the Raul Castro government to release him on humanitarian grounds or to at least let him temporarily return to his country.
“We continue asking the Cuban government to accept the request for Alan Gross to travel to the United States to visit his mother, Evelyn Gross, 90, who is seriously ill. This is a humanitarian issue,” said US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner in a statement this week.
Gross was arrested in December 2009 while trying to smuggle sophisticated and banned telecommunications equipment onto the island. The Maryland resident was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison for “acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state.”
The Cuban prosecutor accused him of having carried out “undercover” operations with the support of the US authorities to destabilize the island’s government. Gross — who was sent to Cuba under a $500,000 contract to work for USAID — denies those allegations and claims that the equipment was designed to simply provide Internet access to Cuban Jewish community.
The family and lawyers of Gross in the United States contend that his health has deteriorated significantly while in prison. Cuban doctors conducted tests on Gross recently and found that he does not suffer from cancer, as had been speculated by the family and press earlier.
Havana also refused on Wednesday to allow US doctors to see Gross, as demanded by his family, who questioned the recent medical evaluations that ruled out a cancerous tumor.
“A team of world class Cuban doctors has provided Mr. Gross systematic attention from day one,” said Vidal.
The Gross family’s lawyer, Jared Genser, issued a statement dismissing as “absurd” the claims by Cuba about the US lying about the health of the operative.
“The easiest way to solve this is to allow an independent doctor to carry out a comprehensive review of Gross,” Genser said.
The lawyer also criticized Cuba’s rejection of the statement by the UN about Gross’s situation as constituting “arbitrary detention.”
The Cuban Foreign Ministry today released on its website the “executive summary” of Havana’s response to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. It’s clear from the island’s reaction to the UN report (whose findings have not yet been officially published) that the international body has concluded that the US operative is under “arbitrary detention” by international standards.
“The arrest in Cuba of Mr. Alan Phillip Gross has not violated any article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or the Body of Principles for the Protection of Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, contrary to the claims of the source of the complaint against the Cuban government,” replied the Foreign Ministry of the island. “Therefore these cannot be described in any way as arbitrary,” concludes the official Cuban position.
Attorney Genser, who in August sent the request to the UN agency to analyze the case of Gross, challenged Cuba to “make public” the resolution of the Working Group “so that the international community can see what the United Nations said.”
“Faced with the assertions by Vidal concerning the irrelevance of that review, it’s obvious that the Cuban government wanted to win this case to vindicate its claim that the arrest of Alan Gross was justified,” said Genser, for whom the UN resolution implies that the Cuban government “should immediately release” his client and “let him return to the United States.”