By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
Havana, Cuba (CNN) — A U.S. State Department contractor jailed in Cuba will be allowed to receive a medical exam from a U.S. doctor, a Cuban government official told CNN Wednesday.
The family of Alan Gross, 64, for months had asked that they be permitted to send a doctor to examine the Maryland native who is serving a 15-year sentence for bringing to Cuba banned communications equipment as part of a U.S. government-funded program to promote democracy on the island.
Gross’ family said that he has lost more than 100 pounds since his incarceration in 2009 and that a mass on his shoulder may be cancerous.
The Cuban government countered that Gross receives medical care from Cuban doctors at the prison hospital where he is being held and that he is in good condition for a man his age.
Jared Gensler, an attorney for Gross, declined to comment on the Cuban government’s allowing Gross to receive a visit from a U.S. physician or when the visit would take place.
The change in course comes as Cuba has intensified its campaign to secure the release of Cuban intelligence agents serving lengthy prison sentences in the United States.
Cuban officials argue that the men infiltrated hardline Cuban-exile groups to prevent terrorist attacks on the island.
But U.S. prosecutors called the men spies, and they were convicted in 2001.
Four of the agents remain in U.S. federal prison. The fifth man, Rene Gonzalez, returned to Cuba last month after serving 14 years in prison and on supervised release.
Gonzalez, who was born in Chicago, renounced his U.S. citizenship last month as part of a deal that allowed him to return to the island and not serve a final year of supervised release in the U.S.
Cuba will continue to push for the four other agents’ release, Gonzalez said in a news conference in Havana Wednesday.
“We have hope that if the American people know about the case, the facts, they will put pressure on the White House for a solution,” Gonzalez said.
Last year, Cuban officials said they wanted to negotiate the jailed agents’ case along with Gross’.
“The ball’s in their court,” said Johana Tablada, subdirector of the department that oversees U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry. “We are waiting on the U.S. government’s response.”
But U.S. officials have rejected calls for a prisoner swap, instead arguing that Gross did not spy during his visits to Cuba and should be released immediately.
“Hopefully, a solution can be found that is mutually beneficial,” said Kenia Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, a Cuban organization working to secure the agents’ freedom. “All the families involved have suffered greatly.”
Editor’s Note: Several Cuban spies, including Josefina Vidal Ferreiro and Johana Tablada de la Torre serve in the North America Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). Their assignments, respectively, are Division Director and Division Deputy Director. Both woman have been involved in the handling of Alan Gross since 2009. (See Cuba Confidential post, Banished Spies Led Cuba-US Talks on Alan Gross, May 9, 2012, https://cubaconfidential.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/banished-spies-led-cuba-us-talks-on-alan-gross/
Josefina Vidal remains Havana’s lead official regarding U.S.-Cuban relations and is highly visible on this issue. Comparatively little is publicly known about Vidal. In May 2003, the US expelled 14 Cuban diplomats for espionage. Seven diplomats were based at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations and seven at the Interests Section. Among the seven Washington-based spies declared Persona Non Grata was First Secretary Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera. His wife, First Secretary Josefina de la C. Vidal, also known to the US as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, voluntarily accompanied her expelled spouse back to Cuba. Her affiliation among Havana’s five intelligence services remains unclear.
In contrast, reporting on Johanna Tablada is so extensive it is attached here as a separate file: Activities of Cuban Spy Johanna Tablada.
DGI officer Jesus Raul Perez Mendez was director of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) before his July 1983 defection. According to the New York Times, ICAP “arranges and supervises visits by Americans to Cuba and maintains contacts with native-born Cubans in other countries.” The Times also cited a State Department spokesman who claimed ICAP was suspected of having an intelligence collection mission in support of the DGI.
The Directorate General of Intelligence (DGI) was the foreign intelligence wing of the Ministry of the Interior. Following a 1989 reorganization, this service became known as the Directorate of Intelligence (DI).
More recently, a former DI officer reportedly that ICAP is not a DI entity per se, but that it was overwhelmingly influenced by the intelligence service. The highly-reliable émigré claimed ICAP was penetrated by a small cadre of bona fide DI officers, aided by a large staff of agents (i.e., collaborators). As a result, roughly 90% of ICAP was thought to be DI-affiliated.