Hunger strike in Cuba
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    US contractor Alan Gross ‘may not survive’ Cuba jail term

    US contractor Alan Gross ‘may not survive’ Cuba jail term
    By Sarah Rainsford
    BBC News, Havana

    The lawyer of a US government contractor imprisoned in Cuba says he
    doesn’t know how long he will survive in prison.

    Alan Gross has served four years of a 15-year term for taking internet
    equipment to Cuba illegally.

    According to his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, Mr Gross has bid farewell to his
    family and “withdrawn”.

    Mr Gross’s imprisonment has stymied efforts to improve diplomatic ties
    between Cuba and the US.

    “Alan is not in a good place,” Scott Gilbert told the BBC on a trip to
    see his client in Havana this week. “As he puts it, he is done with this
    situation. I don’t know how much longer he will survive in there.”

    Mr Gross was arrested in December 2009 after importing illegal satellite
    communications equipment.

    He had been working on a democracy-promotion programme funded by the US
    government agency, USAID, to spread unmonitored internet access.
    Communist-run Cuba believes the agency promotes regime-change.

    Scott Gilbert told the BBC that he is ‘worried’ about the health of his
    client. He says the 65-year-old suffers from hip pain and can ‘barely
    see’ through one eye. He is now confined for 24 hours a day, unable to
    exercise because of his hips.

    Extreme anger
    Alan Gross launched a hunger strike earlier this year, only calling it
    off after eight days when his mother intervened.

    “Alan has extreme anger. He’s certainly angry at the Cuban government
    for what he believes is a […] very inappropriate and harsh sentence,”
    Scott Gilbert explained.

    “He is [also] extremely angry with his government, which sent him to
    Cuba without adequate warnings and training – and since his
    incarceration, as far as we can see, has done virtually nothing to
    obtain his release.”

    In the State Department’s latest comments on the case, spokeswoman Jen
    Psaki insisted his fate remains at the “forefront of discussions with
    the Cuban government”.

    But such “discussion” remains limited since the US cut formal,
    diplomatic ties with Cuba after the 1959 revolution.

    Cuba says it is ready to discuss the case of Alan Gross, which they link
    directly to the fate of the so-called “Cuban Five” intelligence agents,
    three of whom are still serving long prison sentences in the US.

    The US government has ruled out linking the cases, arguing that Alan
    Gross was not a spy.

    ‘Covert operations’
    It insists he was simply offering uncensored internet access to the
    Jewish community in a country where the internet remains tightly controlled.

    But the situation has been further complicated by revelations that USAID
    continued funding secretive programmes to promote political change in
    Cuba even after Alan Gross was arrested.

    An Associated Press news agency investigation revealed a “Cuban Twitter”
    service called ZunZuneo set-up by the US government agency to incite
    rebellion, as well as a programme sending young Latin American students
    to the island to do the same.

    On Tuesday, Cuba’s foreign ministry denounced America’s “illegal and
    covert” operations, accusing Washington of “hostile” meddling.

    “Alan said early on that he felt like a pawn” in the US-Cuba
    relationship, Scott Gilbert told the BBC.

    “Sadly I think he’s not even a pawn. That’s a [chess] piece that moves,
    that gets played. It’s one that both sides care about, and deal with
    strategically,” he said.

    Alan Gross has no further legal recourse in Cuba and appeals for his
    release on humanitarian grounds have gone unheeded.

    All that remains is politics.

    “I’m trying to maintain hope on Alan’s part that our two governments
    will get together to deal with these issues,” the lawyer said. “But it’s
    very difficult.”

    Source: BBC News – US contractor Alan Gross ‘may not survive’ Cuba jail
    term – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-28684535

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