Friday, November 16, 2012

USAID wanted to establish base in Cuba

Alan and Judy Gross. Photo: AP
The U.S. Agency for International Development and a Maryland development company ignored an American man's warnings about the risks of working in Cuba in the months leading to his 2009 arrest, according to a lawsuit filed today.
Alan Gross and his wife Judy are suing USAID and DAI of Bethesda, Md., for $60 million. Their suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said DAI showed "willful disregard for Mr. Gross' rights and safety." (Download lawsuit and December 2011 claim for damages from Gross family lawyer to USAID. H/T El Nuevo Herald).
The lawsuit said DAI failed to disclose the risks that Gross faced, put profits before safety and did nothing even after Gross repeatedly "expressed concerns about the operation."
The lawsuit also claims that USAID violated its own internal directives, failing to prevent Cuban authorities from arresting Gross.
DAI had no immediate response. A State Department spokeswoman said she hadn't seen the lawsuit and had no comment.
USAID had given DAI the authority to “establish operations supporting the creation of a USAID Mission" in Cuba. According to the company's agreement with USAID, DAI was to:
Develop and . . . activate plans for launching a rapid-response programmatic platform that will meet USAID’s interest for having and coordinating an on-island presence.
DAI had approached Gross on Oct. 31, 2009, and had asked him to submit a proposal to carry out a project in Cuba even though he apparently did not speak Spanish.
Gross quickly put together a proposal and submitted it on Nov. 7, 2008. The lawsuit said he envisioned "training the Jewish community in Cuba on the use and maintenance of information and communication technologies through, among other things, the use of mobile phones, wireless technologies, and personal computers."
The lawsuit said:
The proposal reflected his lifelong dedication, both professionally and personally, to serving Jewish causes around the world.
Gross' company, JBDC, won the subcontract and began work on Feb. 10, 2009.
Gross made three quick trips to Cuba during the first half of 2009 - on March 30, April 24 and June 4.
After the third trip, he reported his safety concerns to DAI, writing:
This is very risky business in no uncertain terms.
Gross made a fourth trip on July 19, 2009, and a fifth trip on Nov. 23, 2009.
Cuban authorities arrested him on Dec. 3, 2009, before he could make it home after that fifth trip.
They charged him in February 2011 and he was convicted on March 11, 2011, and sentenced to a 15-year prison term.

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