By Paul Haven, Associated Press | September 12, 2012 01:57 PM EST
HAVANA — A senior Cuban diplomat said Wednesday her country is prepared to negotiate a solution in the case of a jailed American contractor, but is awaiting a U.S. response.
Foreign Ministry official Josefina Vidal also rejected allegations by the wife of 63-year-old Maryland native Alan Gross that her husband’s health is failing after more than 2 1/2 years in custody. “Cuba reiterates its willingness to talk with the United States government to find a solution in the case of Mr. Gross and continues to await an answer,” Vidal, who heads the ministry’s Office of North American Affairs, said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
She gave no details. It was the first time a Cuban official has hinted that a specific proposal has been made and indicated that the ball was in Washington’s court. Previously, senior officials in President Raul Castro’s government have raised the case of five Cuban agents sentenced to long jail terms in the United States, though they have not spelled out publicly that they are seeking an exchange. U.S. officials say privately, however, that Havana has made it increasingly clear they want a quid pro quo, something Washington has repeatedly rejected.
Gross’s wife, Judy, traveled to Cuba and visited her husband in custody several times last week. She said upon her return to the United States that she feared he would not survive his ordeal. Gross, who was obese when he was arrested in December 2009, has lost more than 100 pounds in custody. His wife and lawyer say he also suffers from arthritis and has developed a mass behind his right shoulder blade that is not believed to be cancerous.
Vidal said the American’s physical condition is fine. “Mr. Gross’s health continues to be normal and he exercises regularly,” she said in the brief statement.
Gross was working on a USAID-funded democracy building program when he was arrested at Havana’s Jose Marti airport. He says he was only trying to provide internet service to the island’s small Jewish community. Cuba says the multimillion dollar programs are an effort by Washington to undermine the government, and has noted that Gross was carrying sophisticated communications equipment. Gross was sentenced to 15 years, and has lost his final appeal, leaving him out of legal options.
Editor’s Note: Josefina Vidal left the US in 2003 when her husband and 13 other spy-diplomats were thrown out of the United States. Vidal and Maria Cristina Delgado Suarez (wife of expelled spy Raul Rodriguez Averhoff) both left the country voluntarily. That said, both women were known to US authorities as Cuban intelligence officers and this fact played into the selection of their husbands for expulsion.