By Maria Peña
WASHINGTON – The U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross, a prisoner in Cuban since 2009, was no James Bond, just someone who undertook a project without knowing what the risks were, but convinced that if any problems should arise, the United States and the company that contracted him would come to his aid, his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, told Efe.
Now 63, Gross was detained in Havana three years ago in possession of satellite communications equipment he was planning to distribute among Cuba’s Jewish community under a contract with a firm hired by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Gross and his wife Judy filed a $60 million lawsuit last month against USAID and contractor DAI for allegedly failing to inform Alan of the risks associated with the mission or provide him with protection.
“The State Department has said publicly in the press that they knew that Alan was being sent to Cuba with devices that were illegal in Cuba … how can the U.S. government send a civilian to Cuba knowing that?” Gilbert said during an extensive interview at the offices of his Washington law firm.
Havana says Gross was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion on the Communist-ruled island. Last August, Cuba’s highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on the American five months earlier.
U.S. officials and the Gross family demand his unconditional release, insisting that Gross did nothing wrong and is a humanitarian worker dedicated to Jewish causes.
Gross made five trips in 2009 – he was arrested during the last one on Dec. 3 – and according to the lawsuit, in his reports on the third and fourth trips he had started sounding the alarm about what a high-risk mission this was.
“I can tell you categorically that Alan Gross did not expect to be apprehended or detained in Cuba or spend one night in custody,” Gilbert said. “For Alan, it’s been a Kafka-like experience every step of the way.”
“When Alan raised concerns about the trips they essentially said to him either you finish this project or we’ll find somebody else to do it,” the Gross family attorney said.
“Alan believed they (USAID) were looking out for him and that they would never let him get into a situation where direct harm would come to him,” Gilbert added.
“I believe that Alan is a very idealistic individual, idealistic to the point of being even potentially somewhat naive,” the lawyer said, insisting that “USAID and DAI never should have approved this project in the first place.”
“They violated their duties to Alan (and) their own rules,” Gilbert said of the defendants in the suit.
In parallel to the lawsuit, another Gross attorney, Jared Genser, is collaborating with public relations efforts and a campaign to pressure the U.S. and Cuba to sit down and negotiate a solution.
The Gross family is asking President Barack Obama to designate a special envoy with full authority to negotiate with Cuba. EFE