HAVANA TIMES, March 4 (IPS) — More than 50 years of conflict between Cuba and the United States, and in particular Washington’s consistent support for dissidents in this Caribbean island nation, will leave their mark on the trial of U.S. citizen Alan Gross that began Friday.
Gross was arrested Dec. 3, 2009 when he was attempting to return to the U.S. after his fifth visit to Cuba in nine months. He is accused of acts against the independence and integrity of Cuba, punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.
The 61-year-old U.S. citizen works for Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), based in Bethesda, Maryland, near Washington DC, which carries out development work in other countries. At the time of his arrest he was a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development.
As well as alleged involvement in spying, Cuban sources have maintained for months that Gross illegally brought in satellite communications equipment to hand over to internal dissident groups, as part of a program financed by USAID.
“He violated Cuban laws and national sovereignty and has committed crimes which in the United States carry heavy sentences,” Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban parliament, said Dec. 10.
Officials in the government of U.S. President Barack Obama and Gross’s defense attorney, however, insist that the contractor was on the island to help the small Cuban Jewish community connect to the Internet, which they say is a global right.
“We have made it very clear to the Cuban government that the continued detention of Alan Gross is a major impediment to advancing the dialogue between our two countries,” U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Dec. 3.
A possible swap of Gross for one or more of the five Cuban agents convicted of espionage and serving sentences in the United States, but regarded as anti-terrorism fighters by Havana, was apparently also ruled out by both sides in mid-2010.
Leaders of the Jewish community and of the Cuban Council of Churches denied any contact with the U.S. contractor. Meanwhile, Washington devoted 2.6 million dollars to Gross’s defense, out of its 20 million dollar 2010 budget for supporting democracy on the island.
“Gross was not arrested because he is Jewish,” said Arturo López-Levy, a Cuban lecturer at the University of Denver, Colorado. Jewish delegations from the United States travel regularly to Cuba and many of them “have donated computers and cell phones to Cuban Jews,” he said.
“But none of these groups has a declared strategy of imposing regime change in Cuba through laws approved by the U.S. Congress,” he added, calling for a review of programs to promote a political transition in Cuba, inherited from the administration of George W. Bush (2001-2009).
The Cuban Democracy Act, approved by the U.S. Congress in 1992, authorized financial assistance to individuals and organizations working for “non-violent democratic change” in this socialist country.
According to Cuban-American lawyer José Pertierra, after Bush took office “the budget for fomenting an opposition in Cuban society allied to the interests of Miami (where most Cuban exiles live) and the White House increased astronomically, from 3.5 million dollars in 2000 to 45 million in 2008.”
Local observers speculate that the key issue now could be Cuba’s interest in demonstrating links between dissidents and Washington. In the view of government authorities, the opposition in Cuba exists only because of financial and logistical support from the United States.
Perhaps the same reason might underlie the Feb. 26 broadcast of the story of two Cuban state security agents who for years infiltrated opposition groups like the National Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, and the Ladies in White.
A documentary screened on national television went beyond the personal experiences of Moisés Rodríguez and Carlos Manuel Serpa to delve into the permanent links between dissident groups and the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, and how U.S. funds and other material aid enter the country and are distributed among them.
The Cuban agents expressed the view that obtaining money and a refugee visa are the main motives for dissidents to become involved in what the Cuban government regards as mercenary activities.
In addition to direct cash transfers, the government views international prizes awarded to dissident groups as another form of financing, like those received by the Ladies in White, a group of women who since 2003 have organized protests on behalf of their imprisoned husbands, or Yoani Sánchez, author of the Generation Y blog.