The Alan Gross story – take three

November 16, 2012 by  
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Australian Federal MP Michael Danby has taken the case of Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba, to the Cuba’s ambassador to Australia Pedro Monzon who replies stating his country’s take on the affair. Jared Genzer, Gross’s counsel in Washington, responds to the ambassador’s statement…

Alan Gross with wife Judy

I serve as counsel to Alan Gross, the American who is wrongly detained in Cuba.  By way of quick background, I previously spent five years as international counsel to Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma and currently represent Liu Xiaobo of China.  I mention this not to make the analogy that Mr. Gross’s case and theirs are similar – but rather to show that I carefully considered the impact on my own reputation before agreeing to take up Mr. Gross’s case and ultimately did so because I am convinced that he is innocent of the charges on which he was convicted.

As such, I am writing to help correct the many inaccurate and highly misleading statements made recently in J-Wire by Pedro Monzon, Ambassador of Cuba to Australia.  Before doing so, I want to thank you for your efforts to highlight Mr. Gross’s case.  It is only through continued discussion of this case from a variety of sources that Mr. Gross will ultimately come back to the US where he belongs.

Below are the statements made by Ambassador Monzon that must be corrected:

1.         We have to clarify, first, that Alan Gross has not been tried and sentenced in Cuba because he has been doing “humanitarian and voluntary work” associated with helping the Cuban Jewish community to connect to the Internet.

Mr. Gross’s purpose was simple: helping to connect members of the non-dissident, Jewish community to the Internet.  Ambassador Monzon’s claim is contradicted by the following statements, drawn directly from the Cuban Court Judgment, where the Government of Cuba itself explains what Mr. Gross was doing in Cuba.

·         [Alan Gross] . . . contacted the aforementioned William Miller Espinosa at the synagogue of the Jewish Community in Havana, at Calle 1, No. numéro 263, esquina a 13, Municipio Plaza de la Revolución, where he took the equipment pieces to and interconnected them using a B-GAN device, which allow him to establish [Internet] satellite communication.

·         The defendant . . . traveled to Santiago de Cuba carrying the aforementioned equipment and once there he contacted the leader of the Jewish congregation, Eugenia Farin Levy, to whom he gave the aforementioned devices . . . and immediately proceeded to install them at the site of the Jewish Community of the aforementioned city at Calle Corona, Numero 253, entre Habana y Maceo . . . .

·         Carrying these equipment, Alan Phillips Gross drove to Camagüey where he contacted David Pernas Levy, President of the Jewish Community in that province . . . and . . . he installed the equipment at the site of the aforementioned congregation at Calle Andres López Sánchez, Numéro 365 entre Joaquin de Aügero y Capdevila, Camagüey; he put in place a wireless satellite communication network and performed some connectivity tests until he managed to connect with [the] Internet.

You can read the full Court Judgment where these statements appear here.

2.         The Cuban synagogues had access to the Internet long before the arrival of Gross in Cuba.

This is a question of fact, which is easily verified or disproven.  But there is evidence that even after Mr. Gross was arrested, some synagogues, in fact, did not have access to the Internet.  As an illustration, see the below email from Rabbi Lori Shapiro in Los Angeles, California regarding a period of time well after Mr. Gross’s arrest.

From: Lori Shapiro
Date: Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Subject: Shalom, Judy…

My name is Lori Shapiro, and I am a rabbi in Los Angeles, working at the University of Southern California.  I have known of your husband’s situation for a few years now, as I travelled to Cuba the summer of 2010 to officiate a wedding there.  While there, I got to know the staff/lay leadership of the El Patranado synagogue.  In fact, the wedding was for a young man named XXX, who worked at the synagogue, as did his mother.

I had read about Alan’s incarceration that winter in the New York Times.  When I inquired about your husband, I was met with an uncomfortable silence.  When I inquired again, this time in a more intimate environment, I was told that “they didn’t know anything about Alan Gross.”  I found this confusing, as I know that your husband had worked there, as I was brought into a computer room, and my friend who was marrying Jeiro said that Alan had been helping the synagogue with its computers.

After leading Friday night services with their staff, I was met late at night at our hotel by the couple I was to marry after Shabbat.  They awkwardly informed me that the wedding had been “called off” by the synagogue.  No reasoning was given.  I found this entire experience strange — from the dozens of Americans I saw coming into the synagogue and passing money to its President, to the room filled with computer equipment that I was told “had no internet.”  The entire experience soured my perception of the Cuban Jewish community.

I fully support Alan’s release from Cuba.  Please let me know how I can be of any assistance.

Wishing you comfort through this trial,
Rabbi Lori Shapiro
University of Southern California Hillel

3.         [Mr. Gross’s] aim was to carry out covert activities to destabilize Cuba…

Rather than analyzing the specific facts of Mr. Gross’s case, the Government of Cuba, and now Ambassador Monzon, instead focused their attention on registering their disdain toward the US Government and its agencies.  In their eyes, Mr. Gross was guilty simply by virtue of being a US citizen who worked for a US Government contractor.  Toward this end, the Cuban Government (as reflected in the Court’s opinion and Ambassador Monzon’s statements) simply made a series of conclusory statements about Mr. Gross’s alleged crimes but it did not present any evidence to prove its allegations of subversion.  All proffered evidence established only that Mr. Gross was bringing communications technology from the US to Cuba in order to enable the Jewish community to access the Internet.  There was no indication that these actions were undermining the Cuban State, and as such, are a far cry from his alleged crime, “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state,” even if such a crime were consistent with Cuba’s international legal obligations, which it is not.

Mr. Gross’s case is not the forum to address US-Cuba relations or vice versa.  The only pertinent question is whether Mr. Gross is being detained in violation of Cuba’s obligations under international law.  All other matters are irrelevant.  Because the Court’s actions denied Mr. Gross his right to be presumed innocent, which has now resulted in his wrongful conviction and detention, its actions are in direct contravention of Cuba’s obligations under international law.  In addition, Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is a treaty which guarantees all citizens in its territory the right to freedom of expression, including the right to receive and impart information through whatever medium people so choose, which includes the Internet.

4.         [Mr. Gross] also has all the necessary medical attention from Cuban physicians whose high standard is worldly known.

Mr. Gross’s health is not normal and he is not receiving adequate medical care.  The doctors that examine him are employed by the very government that is detaining him, which casts serious doubt on their claims that Mr. Gross is healthy.

In fact, Mr. Gross has lost more than 105 pounds. Furthermore, in May 2012, a mass developed on his right shoulder.  Mr. Gross was evaluated by Cuban doctors who diagnosed the mass as a hematoma (collection of blood) and stated that it would be reabsorbed within a few months at most.  However, the supposed “hematoma” has not been reabsorbed in the seven months that have since passed and he has continued to lose weight.

Dr. Alan A. Cohen, a board-certified radiologist in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, reviewed Mr. Gross’s medical scans on October 1, 2012.  Dr. Cohen found that the medical evaluation of Mr. Gross was grossly inadequate.  Dr. Cohen concluded that the tumor was improperly diagnosed, and that “[a] soft tissue mass in an adult who has lost considerable weight must be assumed to represent a malignant tumor unless proven to be benign.”  Dr. Cohen further stated that “Mr. Gross’s right-shoulder mass has yet to be properly evaluated and presents a potentially lethal outcome unless fully and properly evaluated with MRI prior to and following contrast a potentially a biopsy, preferably in a facility in the United States, immediately.”

Since May of 2012, Mr. Gross’s requests for an independent medical evaluation have been consistently denied, despite their obligation to provide such an examination under international law.  His more recent requests for a CT scan with contrast and a biopsy have similarly been rejected.  If the Cuban Government’s claims about Mr. Gross’s health and their world-class health care system are true, then their position would only be strengthened with the confirmation of an independent physician that Mr. Gross is healthy.  If Cuba has nothing to hide, why deny Mr. Gross an independent medical assessment?

As noted in a recent submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, the lack of medical clarity given to Mr. Gross by the Cubans has been causing him severe mental anxiety for nearly seven months.  As time goes on, and depending on the severity of his illness, the denial of medical care will surely amount to torture.

Ambassador Monzon’s claim’s about Mr. Gross’s alleged good health is all the more surprising given he would be well aware of our deep and abiding concerns and the aforementioned medical report and UN submission.

5.         I will like to take the advantage of this message to state again that Cuba reiterates its willingness to dialogue with the Government of the United States in order to achieve a solution to the case of Mr. Gross and that we are still waiting for a response from their side.

Mr. Gross and his family want nothing more than for the governments of Cuba and the US to come together to negotiate his release.  However, Cuba has sent mixed signals about its willingness to engage in serious discussions with the US, and has been unclear about precisely what it wants from the US Government and with whom it is willing to talk.

Mr. Gross, his wife, and I have consistently urged the Government of Cuba to release Alan on humanitarian grounds.  And similarly, we have urged the US Government to work on behalf of one of its own citizens to privately have an honest and open dialogue with the Cubans, and to do whatever is necessary to secure Mr. Gross’s release.  Now that the US election is over, the time has arrived for solution.

Again, I want to thank you for your support and interest in Mr. Gross’s case and would urge you to keep pressing the Cuban government on this matter until it is resolved.

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