Cuba lashes out at Gross health charges
Cuba lashes out at Gross health charges
By PAUL HAVEN
HAVANA -- Cuba lashed back Friday at what it called a campaign of
distortions over the health of an imprisoned American contractor, and
hinted at retaliation that could include transferring the 63-year-old
man from the military hospital where he is being held to a regular prison.
The Foreign Ministry statement marked an escalation in a dispute that
has been simmering for 2 1/2 years and that has torpedoed any hope of
improved ties between the Cold War enemies. Maryland-native Alan Gross
is serving a 15-year term for bringing satellite and other
communications equipment into Cuba illegally while on a USAID-funded
Cuban officials disputed recent comments by Gross's lawyer and wife that
his condition is deteriorating, saying his health is in fact "normal"
and he is being properly treated.
It said he is well enough, in fact, to serve his sentence in a regular
jail, in what appeared to be a thinly veiled warning.
"Even though Mr. Gross could be held at any prison facility due to the
fact that his situation is not incompatible with that, he is being held
at a military hospital," the statement said. "This is not because his
health requires it, but to ensure for him the best conditions."
The statement also implied that Cuba was holding back information that
Gross and his supporters would not like to see released, though it was
unclear whether it was talking about his medical history or his
activities on the island.
"The Government of Cuba regrets the distortions that are being spread on
the subject of Mr. Gross' health and respects his right to the privacy
of doctor-patient information," the statement read. "Cuba demands that
this campaign of fabrications cease. Should it continue, there will be
no other alternative than to publish abundant information on the subject."
Gross's attorney, Peter J. Kahn, told The Associated Press earlier this
week that his client was having difficulty walking and has developed a
mass behind his right shoulder blade. He also accused the Cuban
government of withholding the results of medical tests performed last month.
"They still haven't shown up, and we're not getting a straight answer as
to why, which causes us even more concern because maybe there is
something serious going on here," Kahn said.
After the Cuban communique was released Friday, Kahn issued another
statement saying that the Cubans had finally released the medical records.
Kahn's concerns were echoed earlier this week by the State Department,
which called for Gross's immediate release.
"We are extremely concerned about Alan Gross' health," said spokeswoman
Victoria Nuland, adding that he has degenerative arthritis that has
worsened because he is not allowed to walk in his cell. The State
Department declined to comment further after Friday's statement was
Gross's wife, Judy, has previously said her husband's condition was
worsening. Gross, who was overweight at the time of his arrest, has lost
more than 100 pounds while in jail. His family says he is also under
enormous psychological stress because his elderly mother and adult
daughter are both battling cancer.
Gross was arrested at Havana's Jose Marti airport in December 2009 at
the end of his fifth visit to Cuba and later convicted of crimes against
the state. He says he was only trying to set up Internet connections for
the island's small Jewish community.
Cuba has said it is willing to negotiate a humanitarian release, but
every time it discusses such a move it brings up the plight of the Cuban
Five, intelligence agents who were sentenced to long jail terms in the
One of the men is free on supervised release, but is not allowed to
return permanently to Cuba. Washington has ruled out a quid pro quo, and
has warned that no progress can be made in bilateral relations until
Gross is free. That has left the case, and U.S.-Cuba ties, stalemated.
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