Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    For American Imprisoned in Cuba, Suit Against U.S. Is Part of New Strategy

    For American Imprisoned in Cuba, Suit Against U.S. Is Part of New Strategy

    By DAMIEN CAVE

    Published: November 28, 2012

    MEXICO CITY — Alan Gross, a computer expert with extensive experience

    overseas, went to Cuba in 2009 as part of a State Department program

    delivering satellite equipment to Jewish groups in Havana. He

    was a longtime supporter of Jewish causes, and his wife, Judy, said he

    fell in love with Cuba, praised the contractor that hired him and

    enjoyed the work.

    Then he was arrested. And now, after nearly three years behind bars in

    Cuba, Mr. Gross, 63, is mostly angry, his wife says — and not just with

    the Cuban authorities who prosecuted him.

    In a lawsuit filed Nov. 16 in federal court in Washington, Mr. Gross

    directs his ire at the United States and at the contractor, DAI,

    accusing both of negligence for sending him on five semi-covert trips to

    Cuba without proper training, protection or even a clear sense of Cuban law.

    The case is part of an aggressive new strategy by the Gross family to

    win his release. After reorganizing their legal team to include a human

    rights lawyer, who has started a campaign to pressure Cuba partly

    through the United Nations, the Grosses sued the United States

    government for up to $60 million and made it clear that they do not

    intend to stay silent about their growing sense of disappointment with

    Washington.

    "Alan is a victim of 50 years of failed policy with Cuba," Mrs.Gross

    said, adding, "I don't like to shame people, but if that's what it's

    going to take, that's what we need to do,"

    Scott Gilbert, one of the Gross family's lawyers, said the case could be

    especially damaging for the State Department and DAI if the discovery

    process produces more examples of unqualified and ill-prepared

    contractors sent to Cuba. He said the suit would draw attention to the

    American government's pro-democracy effort, which Mr. Gilbert described

    as "flawed in conception" and "completely messed up" in execution.

    Run chiefly by the United States Agency for International Development,

    the program was authorized in 1996 by the Helms-Burton Act, which

    tightened the Cuba trade and allowed for money to be set aside

    for "democracy building efforts."

    Created to push Fidel and from power, the program has seen

    its budgets range wildly — from $3.5 million in 2000 to $45 million in

    2008 and $20 million a year under President Obama. Some of that spending

    has been criticized. A government audit in 2006, for example, found that

    several groups with democracy grants made dubious purchases, including

    Nintendo Game Boys.

    Cuba considers the effort an affront to its sovereignty. Collaboration

    with the program has been for years, prompting one group with

    the democracy program to try to evade detection by hiding satellite

    Internet equipment in boogie boards.

    Mr. Gross acted more openly. His wife says he registered the equipment

    he carried into Cuba with authorities, and was never told by his

    employer that Cuban law did not allow what he was doing.. "You could say

    Alan was naïve, and I'm sure he was in some way, but there was no

    indication that it was this serious," Mrs. Gross said.

    In a statement, DAI refused to comment on whether it had adequately

    trained Mr. Gross. "As much as we would like to address the numerous

    disagreements we have with the content of the complaint, the fact is

    that doing so will not advance the cause of bringing Alan home, which

    remains our highest priority," the company said in a statement. The

    State Department also declined to comment.

    Mr. Gross did appear to learn over time that he was engaged in sensitive

    activities. After his first visit working with DAI in the spring of

    2009, he wrote a memo that said the group he met with "has specific

    concerns about government informants and the highest level of discretion

    is warranted."

    By his third trip in June, he had become more blunt, writing to DAI that

    "this is very risky business in no uncertain terms." Detection of the

    networks he set up, he said, could lead his Cuban contacts to be arrested.

    The lawsuit argues that these memos should have been enough to lead to

    additional training for Mr. Gross, or a new approach. Instead, the

    complaint says, DAI and the American government "failed to take an

    action to protect Mr. Gross."

    On his next trip, he was arrested. On the Friday in December when he was

    supposed to come home, Mrs. Gross had set the table for the Sabbath with

    wine and candles. She discovered what had happened only after frantic

    calls to the State Department, which confirmed Mr. Gross's detention.

    She said she initially expected him a quick release. "I had faith in my

    government and my State Department," she said. "Of course they are going

    to do something about this right away. Of course they are going to get

    him out right away. The idealism didn't last very long."

    A petition that the Grosses' new lawyer, Jared Genser, filed in August

    with the United Nations described his trial and imprisonment as a

    violation of his human rights and an international treaty Cuba signed in

    2008 guaranteeing of in any medium.

    Mr. Genser also told the United Nations that a growth on Mr. Gross's

    shoulder could be cancerous and was being ignored by Cuban doctors, but

    on Wednesday Cuba issued a statement declaring Mr. Gross's was

    "normal." The statement said a biopsy performed Nov. 24 showed that the

    lesion "was not carcinogenic."

    Mrs. Gross said that her husband is clearly a victim of "a brutal

    Communist government" but that she and he have also become frustrated

    with their own government's hard-line approach, in which American

    officials say discussions are dead because they refuse to negotiate

    certain issues — especially a possible pardon for the Cuban Five, Cuban

    citizens who were convicted in the United States 2001 of spying on Cuban

    exiles.

    Mrs. Gross said she understood that American officials are frustrated

    with the Cubans and that "part of me thinks you don't reward a country

    for holding a hostage" — the argument favored by Senator Robert

    Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and other Cuban-American lawmakers.

    But she said she had also come to realize that her husband might have

    already been released if not for these same hard-liners in Congress.

    Even after Mr. Gross was detained, Mr. Menendez and others successfully

    resisted the Obama administration's attempts to reduce financing for the

    Cuba pro-democracy programs, making negotiations harder.

    What the Gross family now realizes, she said, is that her husband is "a

    pawn of these very radical right-wing Cuba haters, for lack of a better

    word, who don't want to see any changes happen, even to get Alan home."

    In an interview, Mr. Menendez said the focus should be on Cuba, which

    has "arrested an American who should not have arrested in the first

    place." Asked if he would support any change in Cuba policy — including

    cuts to the Cuba democracy program — if it meant getting Mr. Gross

    released, he said no.

    "I'm not into negotiating for someone who is clearly a hostage of the

    Cuban regime," he said.

    Mr. Genser said he was urging senior White House officials to ignore

    such absolutist opposition to engagement with Cuba. Noting that former

    President Bill Clinton negotiated the release of two American

    journalists from North Korea in 2009, he called for another high-level

    envoy to be sent to Havana as soon as possible.

    "Alan Gross is a U.S. government contractor sent to do a job by the

    United States," he said. "If we can negotiate the release of people in

    Iran, Burma and North Korea, surely we can find a way to get someone

    released from Cuba."

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/world/americas/for-alan-gross-imprisoned-in-cuba-suit-against-us-is-part-of-new-strategy.html?_r=0