Sunday, November 6, 2011

Release From Havana Jail Sought On Humanitarian Grounds

Alan Gross Supporters Deliver Letter to Cuban Authorities in Washington, D.C.

By Edward V. Byrne for The Yucatan Times
September 2, 2011

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Alan Gross (left) is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba
Supporters of a convicted U.S. citizen serving a 15 year sentence in Cuba for political crimes today formally asked that country`s government to release him on humanitarian grounds. Alan P. Gross, 62, of Bethesda, Maryland, was convicted in March of “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the State.”

Gross’ lawyers appealed the case to Cuba’s highest court, which upheld the conviction in August. Short of a pardon or commutation of sentence he will have to serve the entire sentence. Gross has been in custody since December 2009, when he was arrested in Havana while preparing to board a flight to Washington, D.C.

Gross made multiple trips to Cuba beginning in 2008, always while travelling on an ordinary tourist visa. Cuban authorities allege that he illegally distributed cell and satellite phones, as well as laptop computers and internet technology training, to a community of about 1,000 Jews who live on the island. Gross is Jewish. Distribution of high tech equipment is strictly forbidden under Cuban law without permission of the government.

The facts of the case remain vague, although Gross himself has suggested that he was manipulated or deceived into believing that his conduct would be lawful. The U.S. government has said little, other than that Gross’ travel on a tourist visa was a minor technical violation which does not warrant a prison sentence. In March former U.S. president Jimmy Carter led an entourage to Havana, the primary purpose of which was to seek Gross’ release and possible exchange for five convicted Cuban agents who have been imprisoned in the U.S. since the late 1990s. The trip produced no tangible results.

Today’s humanitarian appeal by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Washington was delivered in the form of a letter addressed to Cuban President Raul Castro, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla and the Cuban Chief of Mission in the U.S., Ambassador Jorge Bolaños Suarez. Cuba and the U.S. do not have formal diplomatic relations, but Cuban affairs are handled through the Swiss embassy in Washington. There was no immediate response by Havana.

The Yucatan Times received a press copy of the clemency petition by e-mail this afternoon (September 2) from a Washington, D.C. public relations firm which handles media matters for Alan Gross’ U.S. attorney, Peter J. Kahn. Supporters of Gross are asking that he be released by September 29, which is Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the Jewish High Holidays. The letter claims that “Alan’s physical and emotional state is deteriorating, and that he has lost over 100 pounds.” It also says he suffers from various ailments including “partial paralysis.” In addition, Gross’ 27- year old daughter and 89-year old mother are both said to be battling cancer. The petition alleges, “financial burdens on the family are becoming insurmountable, due to the growing medical and legal bills and the loss of Alan’s income.”

Kahn attached a handwritten statement to the petition, purportedly read aloud by Gross to the Cuban criminal court which convicted him in March. A portion of the statement says:
“Let me be absolutely clear and unambiguous: I have never, would never, and will never purposefully or knowingly do anything personally or professionally to subvert a government or political system, or bring harm to anyone, whether or not I happen to agree. I respect the sovereignty of Cuba. I had no intent to disrespect or harm the Government or the people of Cuba. I do deeply regret that my actions have been misinterpreted as harmful and a threat against the security and independence of Cuba. I have an immense fondness for the people of Cuba, and I am deeply sorry for being a trusting fool. I was duped. I was used. And my family and I have paid dearly for this.”

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