Monday, August 2, 2010

U.S. urges Cuba to free "unwell" detained contractor

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

From: WHTC

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