Alan Gross, convicted Cuban spy both ask for reprieves to visit ill
By MIMI WHITEFIELD AND JAY WEAVER
The lawyer for Alan Gross has appealed directly to Cuban leader Raúl
Castro to allow the jailed U.S. subcontractor to travel to the United
States for two weeks to see his 89-year-old mother who is battling cancer.
The request echoes one made last month by René González, one of the
Cuban Five agents convicted of spying on the United States. His Miami
lawyer has filed a petition asking the court to allow him to leave the
United States and visit his brother Roberto, 53, who also is gravely ill
with cancer, in Cuba.
But federal prosecutors in Miami oppose his "humanitarian" bid to visit
his brother while he is still on probation after finishing a 13-year
prison term in October. They cite "FBI security concerns" that,
González, a dual U.S.-Cuban citizen, could meet with intelligence
officials on the island before returning to the United States.
The United States has long called for the release of Gross, who has been
imprisoned in Cuba for more than two years. He is serving a 15-year term
for "actions against the integrity of the state." The Cuban government
views the Cuban Five, the so-called Wasp Network, as heroes who were
unjustly convicted and should be freed immediately.
The stalemate has further cooled an already contentious relationship
between Washington and Havana.
In a March 7 letter to Castro sent via the U.S. Interests Section in
Washington, Peter J. Kahn, Gross' U.S. lawyer, said the health of Evelyn
Gross, who is suffering from inoperable lung cancer, had taken a turn
for the worse.
"As you can imagine, Alan and she are tortured daily by the fact that
they may never see each other again, and her final wish is to be able to
see her son once more before her battle with cancer is lost,'' Kahn wrote.
Gross, who worked as a subcontractor on a U.S. Agency for International
Development democracy-building program, was arrested for trying to
distribute satellite equipment to link with the Internet. He said it was
intended for Cuban Jewish groups; the Cuban government said he was
working on a subversive program designed to undermine it.
Like Gross' desire to see his mother, René González has said he wants
the temporary release to see his brother, Roberto, before it is too
late. And just as Gross has promised to return to Cuba after a visit to
serve out the remainder of his sentence, González too has pledged to
return to the United States to fulfill his remaining probation.
"According to the doctors in Havana, the prognosis for Roberto González
is not good as he is not responding to treatment and his condition
continues to worsen," Philip Horowitz, González's lawyer, wrote in a
court filing Feb. 24. "If this court were to grant this motion, the
defendant would be residing with his wife and children and will promptly
return to the United States when this court requires."
Horowitz said Thursday that the U.S. government's opposition to his
client's bid for temporary release based on security concerns is
"without substance whatsoever."
"They are as close as two brothers I've ever seen," Horowitz said.
"Roberto [a Havana attorney] was here for his brother's entire trial."
In a statement, Judy Gross, wife of the jailed American, said: "I fully
appreciate René González's need to visit a dying family member. We need
to remember that these are real people and real lives that are
profoundly affected by these decisions."
Kahn said that the U.S. Treasury has already granted Gross a specific
license that would allow him to return to the island after his visit and
not run afoul of travel restrictions under the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
"Because we know you are a man of compassion and have granted similar
humanitarian gestures in the past to those incarcerated in your
prisons,'' Kahn said he was hopeful Castro would "grant this one final
wish for Evelyn Gross.''
This week, Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, also sent a letter to
Pope Benedict XVI asking him to intercede and request the release of
Gross during his meeting with Castro later this month. Castro will greet
the pope at the airport in Santiago on March 26 when he arrives for a
three-day visit. Benedict also is scheduled to meet with Castro and the
Council of Ministers the following day.
Noting Cuba's "long history of human rights abuses and wrongful
detention of individuals" in his letter, Nelson said, "Your Holiness, I
humbly ask that you keep the Gross family in your prayers and that
during your visit with President Castro you request a humanitarian
release for Alan Gross."