Cuba on Wednesday expressed willingness to engage in negotiations with Washington for resolving the case of U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for taking Internet equipment to the Communist island nation.
In a brief statement posted on the Cuban Foreign Ministry's website, senior diplomat Josefina Vidal said the Cuban government had already expressed willingness to hold talks with the U.S. on Gross' case and was currently waiting for Washington's response.
Vidal also dismissed concerns expressed earlier by the convict's wife Judy about her husband's health, saying: "Mr. Gross's health continues to be normal, and he regularly exercises vigorously."
Judy Gross had said earlier after visiting her husband in a Cuban prison that he might not survive the prison sentence as his health was deteriorating steadily. She said Alan had "lost 105lb (47.7 kg) and has developed degenerative arthritis and a mass behind his right shoulder blade."
Gross, an employee of a firm working for the U.S. State Department, was sentenced on March 11, 2011 by a Cuban lower court to 15 years in prison. Two month's later, that ruling was upheld by Cuba's Supreme Court.
The 62-year old was arrested at Havana airport on December 5, 2009 by Cuban authorities, who alleged then that he was a spy sent by Washington to assist in ousting the Caribbean nation's communist regime.
Cuba said the American was arrested for distributing cell phones, laptops and other communications equipment to religious groups, and claimed that his activities in Cuba were an example of the "privatization of war" by Washington, which hires people to be "agents, torturers, spies."
The U.S. government has denied the allegations, stressing that Gross was not a spy. Washington has also made it clear that there could be no improvement in ties between U.S. and Cuba until Gross was freed and allowed to return home.
At the time of his arrest, Gross was working for Development Alternatives International, an American firm which had won a $6 million contract from the State Department's Agency for International Development (USAID) for promoting democracy in Cuba. His work included distribution of satellite phone and computer equipment to members of Cuba's Jewish community.
During his appeal hearing, Gross had admitted to bringing satellite telecommunications equipment to Cuba-- a move which in the absence of prior permit violates the Communist State's laws. Gross, however, insisted that he never intended to harm the Cuban government in any way. His family had also called for his release on humanitarian grounds, pointing out that one of his daughters is suffering from cancer.
Incidentally, Cuba has been the target of an economic and trade embargo of the United States since 1962. But in 2009, President Barack Obama lifted some travel restrictions imposed on Cuban-Americans, allowing them to visit relatives in that country and remit them money. The move was aimed at improving relations with the Cuba.
Obama, however, retained the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, indicating that it would not be lifted until it took notable steps toward democracy, including the release of remaining political dissidents currently jailed in Cuba.
To date, Cuba under Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, has survived more than four decades of U.S. sanctions. Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul in February 2008, following an emergency stomach surgery in July 2006, and has made very few public appearances since then.
Since taking power from his brother, Raul Castro has launched widespread economic reforms in the Caribbean nation. Under the reforms, ordinary Cubans were given the rights to own small businesses and to buy and sell cars. He has also freed some of the detained dissidents as demanded by the international community.
by RTT Staff Writer
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