Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Alan Gross hunger strike worries Cuba

    Posted on Wednesday, 04.09.14

    Alan Gross hunger strike worries Cuba



    The Cuban government is "concerned" about the hunger strike declared by

    Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor jailed in Havana for four

    years, and it is willing to swap him for three Cuban spies in U.S.

    prisons, a senior official said Wednesday.

    A former top Senate staffer and critic of U.S. Agency for International

    Development programs in Cuba, meanwhile, claimed that USAID officials

    torpedoed a deal for Gross' freedom that Havana had welcomed in 2010.

    Josefina Vidal, the Cuban foreign ministry official in charge of

    relations with the United States, said in a statement that her

    government was "concerned" with the announcement Tuesday that Gross had

    stopped eating last week.

    "Gross is in good physical condition and his health is normal and

    stable," Vidal said, adding that he is imprisoned in a hospital "not

    because his health requires it but because in that place he can be

    guaranteed specialized attention by medical personnel."

    Vidal also reiterated Havana's willingness to "resolve" the Gross case

    if Washington meets Cuba's "humanitarian concerns" for the three spies

    held in U.S. prisons since 1998. Two others completed their sentenced

    and returned to Cuba.

    Cuba says the "Five Heroes" were spying on South Florida exiles who

    might plan terrorist attacks. The so-called "Wasp Network" also spied on

    U.S. military activities, and one member was convicted of conspiracy to

    murder for his role in Cuba's killing of four Brothers to the Rescue

    pilots over the Florida Straits in 1996.

    The Obama administrations has repeatedly rejected any trade for Gross,

    who is serving a 15-year sentence for illegally giving Cuban Jews

    USAID-financed communications equipment to allow them to bypass

    government controls on access to the Internet.

    Gross started the hunger strike after learning that USAID had risked

    making his situation in Cuba worse by launching a semi-clandestine

    Twitter-like system just months after his arrest, his U.S. lawyer, Scott

    Gilbert, said Tuesday.

    Cuba has outlawed cooperation with the U.S. government programs as

    thinly veiled attempts to topple the communist system. USAID says the

    programs are designed merely to promote democracy, civil society and

    unhindered communications on the island.

    Newsweek meanwhile quoted the former Senate Foreign Relations committee

    staffer, Fulton Armstrong, as saying that he and a House counterpart had

    persuaded USAID and the State Department in 2010 to pare back the more

    "aggressive" Cuba programs as part of an effort to win the release of Gross.

    Armstrong added that Cuban officials, told of the approved changes,

    "responded very positively and said that the cleanup … would certainly

    help them make the case for expedited procedures for Gross' release,"

    the magazine added.

    But "die-hard USAID officials" torpedoed the deal, Armstrong told

    Newsweek. "At that point, the discussions about program reforms to gain

    Gross's release ended," he was quoted as saying.

    Newsweek also quoted him as saying that contrary to USAID statements,

    the Obama administration "had not been briefed on the [USAID's]

    regime-change programs, and that the secret operations continued just as

    they had under Bush-Cheney — aggressive, over-funded, and in obvious

    need of oversight and review."

    A report in the magazine Foreign Affairs early last year quoted

    Armstrong as giving a somewhat similar version of efforts to win Gross'

    freedom by toning down the Cuba programs. It said Sen. Bob Menendez, a

    powerful Cuban American Democrat from New Jersey, had persuaded the

    White House to roll back the program changes.

    Armstrong, who has long criticized the Cuban programs as inefficient and

    wasteful and advocated making them more transparent and respectful of

    Cuba's sovereignty, worked in John Kerry's staff in the senate committee

    when Kerry, now secretary of state, was a democratic senator from

    Massachusetts and chaired the panel.

    He served as the CIA's top analyst for Latin America from 2000 to 2004,

    and as director for Inter American Affairs at the White House's National

    Security Council from 1995 to 1997 and again from 1998 to 1999. He

    retired from the CIA in 2008 and left the Senate committee in 2011.

    Kerry told a Senate foreign relations committee hearing Tuesday that the

    Obama administration is "profoundly involved" in efforts to free Gross

    and noted that he met with the 64-year-old Maryland man's family about a

    month ago.

    Kerry said Gross is "unjustly imprisoned" and his treatment has been

    "inhumane." Sen. Marco Rubio R-Fla., a committee member, told CNN later

    that Cuba is holding Gross as a "hostage" to swap with the three spies.

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