Monday, February 25, 2013

Cuba: Update--US Congressional Delegation Fruitless in Effort to Gain Release of Imprisoned US Contractor

As a follow-up to my last postings of 12/3/12 and 12/7/12, in conjunction with the 15-year prison term that US Agency for International Development-funded American contractor Alan Gross, 63, is serving in a Cuban prison, a seven-member delegation from the US Congress wrapped up their visit to Havana on February 20.

Unfortunately, other than great "photo-ops," the delegation left Cuba without Alan Gross in their party, failing in their efforts to secure the American's release, just as other "official" visits to Cuba by US lawmakers, former President Jimmy Carter and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson have been unsuccessful in doing.

COMMENT: Despite the fact that Alan Gross has been in prison since 2009, it is useful to offer some context for our readers who may not be current on Mr. Gross' plight. 

What is most important to clarify is that Mr. Gross signed a binding legal contract with one of USAID's institutional contractors, Maryland-based Development Alternatives, Inc., to implement  a project in Cuba designed to set up Internet access for Cuba's Jewish community.

On paper, such a project sounds well and good, yet one would hope that Mr. Gross' project was APPROVED by the Cuban government before the project was activated.

As an employee of Development Alternatives, and with the project being funded by USAID,  one could hope that the Cuban government approved of the project, but obviously if Mr. Gross was subsequently sentenced to prison for 15 years for subversive activities, something within USAID's bureaucracy went very, very wrong.

On a project such as the one that Gross was assigned to implement, it would have been far more astute of USAID to write a personal services contract (PSC) for Mr. Gross, which would have accorded him legal protection as a US government contractor, rather than one working for a private US company.

It is impossible for anyone to fully understand why Mr. Gross was imprisoned for implementing a USAID-funded contract, yet in prison is where this poor man sits.

Alan Gross is now 63, which means that he will serve in a Cuban prison with ailing health until he is 75 years of age, without the benefit of living a normal life.

Thus, the real question is why is Gross in prison and who in USAID is responsible for that happening, as few, if any, USAID-funded contractors all over the world expect that they could be imprisoned for implementing a US Government project? 

As I said earlier, the delegation availed to the senators and representatives who made up the group great "photo-ops," as few Americans get to travel to Cuba. Even Senator Patrick Leahy's (D-Vermont) wife was able to have her photograph taken,  standing next to a 1939 Ford Model A convertible with a rumble seat in the back.

As a footnote, it should be mentioned that since he was arrested by Cuban officials, most of it in a military hospital due to numerous physical ailments, he has lost 100 pounds.

Now, here is the interesting part: Cuba has voiced an interest in freeing Gross, but only if Washington agrees to consider releasing five Cuban agents sentenced to long jail terms in the United States.

In the meantime, Alan Gross' wife must wonder how long she must wait to see her husband again.