Monday, November 29, 1999

Cuba says jailed U.S. man still under investigation

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A U.S. contractor jailed in Cuba since December on suspicion of espionage activities has committed "serious crimes" but remains under investigation, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Wednesday.His comments indicated that Alan Gross, whose arrest has blocked improvements in U.S.-Cuba relations, has not yet been officially charged with a crime, but is likely to face trial at some point."Alan Gross is detained for having violated Cuban laws and committing serious crimes in our country, at the service of the subversive policies of the government of the United States against Cuba," Rodriguez said in a press conference with visiting Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Dominque Mamberti."He is under investigation. He has his defense assured, has received ongoing consular assistance and has had communications with his family," Rodriguez said in response to a reporter's question.He is being treated in "strict adherence" to Cuba law, said Rodriguez, whose comments about the case were similar to what he has said before, but were the latest confirmation of Gross' status.Gross, 60, was detained at the Havana airport on Dec. 4 as he was attempting to leave the country and has been jailed at the high-security Villa Marista prison since then. Gross, who lives in Potomac, Maryland, has specialized in international development work including setting up communications services.The United States has repeatedly called for Gross' immediate release and said the Obama administration's modest efforts to improve U.S.-Cuba relations would be put on hold as long as he is detained.U.S. officials have said they will likely renew their demand for his release during talks with Cuban officials about migration issues on Friday in Washington.PROHIBITED EQUIPMENTAlthough he has not been charged with a crime, Cuban officials, including President Raul Castro, have said Gross gave prohibited communications equipment to dissidents as part of the longstanding U.S. campaign to promote change on the communist-led island.The United States has said he was providing Internet access to Jewish groups but admitted he entered Cuba on a tourist visa and did not declare his true intent.U.S. government sources have said Gross was setting up Internet links through sophisticated satellite phones known as BGANs.He was in Cuba as an independent contractor for a Washington-area company Development Alternatives Inc., under a U.S.-funded program to promote democracy in Cuba.Havana views such U.S. programs as an attempt to subvert the Cuban government, which has been at odds with the United States since a 1959 revolution put Fidel Castro in power.Fidel Castro, now 83 and ailing, was succeeded by younger brother Raul Castro in February 2008.U.S. diplomats in Havana have been permitted to visit Gross on five occasions but say the Cuban government has refused to discuss the case with them.He also has talked by phone with his wife, Judy, who lives near Washington.Rodriguez' comments overshadowed the appearance of Mamberti, who arrived in Havana on Tuesday for a five-day visit at time when the church is calling for change in financially troubled Cuba.One of the government's estimated 190 political prisoners was released and a dozen others moved to jails closer to their families in what was viewed as a concession to the church ahead of his visit.Mamberti said he did not plan to talk with prisoners or dissidents, but otherwise did not mention them in his comments.Rodriguez said his talks with Mamberti had been "productive, cordial and respectful."Relations between the Catholic Church and Cuba's communist government were contentious following the 1959 revolution but have improved since the 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II.(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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