Friday, December 3, 2010

Will secret cables contradict State Department's stance on Alan Gross?

State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley called Thursday for the release of Alan Gross, held in Cuba since Dec. 3, 2009. Crowley said:
We have repeatedly called on the government of Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Gross, who has been held all this time without charge. We will continue to use all available channels to urge the Cuban government to show humanitarian compassion and put an end to Mr. Gross’s long and unjustifiable ordeal. And this afternoon, State Department officials will be meeting with the family members of Mr. Gross to discuss his continued incarceration.
Anticipating your question, the last time we had consular access to him was on November 16.

QUESTION: I was not aware of the connection to the Jewish communities around the world. Maybe I missed that. Was that something that you have talked about before? And if not, can you give us a little detail?
MR. CROWLEY: He is a contractor and he was trying to help connect communities in Havana to the rest of the world. And, obviously, we think that is important for the development of civil society in Cuba.
QUESTION: So the communications devices that have been mentioned –
MR. CROWLEY: Connecting to the Internet.
QUESTION: The Internet?
MR. CROWLEY: These are not revolutionary kinds of technology.
QUESTION: When the Secretary [of State] hosted Jewish groups several months ago and talked about this, she asked them to make appeals to the Cubans. Are you aware if any of them have?
MR. CROWLEY: That’s correct. And I think there have been some contacts. I mean, it’s a broad-based community. I know there have been some suggestions publicly that, well, some groups know about him; some groups don’t know about him. That really is beside the point. He has been incarcerated without charge for a year and we will continue to encourage his release.
That brief exchange leaves me with a few questions:
  • Which groups in Cuba know about Alan Gross and acknowledged meeting him or working with him? I don't know of any. I must have missed that. I met with a leader of Cuba's Jewish community over the summers and she knew nothing of Gross.
  • More than a dozen of the U.S. Interests Section diplomatic cables expected to be published by Wikileaks were written after Gross was jailed. Will they contain any information that contradicts the State Department's public stance on the case?
  • Will the documents give insight into U.S. negotiations or talks with Cuba over Alan Gross?
One U.S. government source told me that Interests Section staffers did not know much about the activities of USAID contractors in Cuba and that there was little communication or coordination between the Interests Section and USAID. The source added that communication improved after the Gross arrest, but Interests Section employees were handicapped by travel restrictions within Cuba.
Cuban authorities prohibit U.S. government staffers at the Interests Section from traveling outside the Havana metropolitan area. I think the limit is something like 12 miles because I lived 12 miles east of Havana and know that my house was just inside the allowed area.
U.S. officials restrict employees of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington to the Beltway.

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