Cuba lashes out at Gross health charges
HAVANA (AP) -- Cuba lashed back Friday at what it called a campaign of distortions over the health of an imprisoned American contractor, and hinted at retaliation that could include moving the 63-year-old man out of the military hospital where he is being held and putting him in a regular prison.
The statement sent by Cuba's Foreign Ministry marked an escalation of a dispute that has been simmering for 2 1/2 years and that has torpedoed any hope of improved ties between the Cold War enemies. Maryland-native Alan Gross is serving a 15-year term for bringing satellite and other communications equipment into Cuba illegally while on a USAID-funded democracy-building program.
Cuban officials disputed recent comments by Gross's lawyer and wife that his condition is deteriorating, saying his health is in fact "normal" and he is being properly treated.
It said he is well enough, in fact, to serve his sentence in a regular jail, in what appeared to be a thinly veiled warning.
"Even though Mr. Gross could be held at any prison facility due to the fact that his situation is not incompatible with that, he is being held at a military hospital," the statement said. "This is not because his health requires it, but to ensure for him the best conditions."
The statement also implied that Cuba was holding back information that Gross and his supporters would not like to see released, though it was not clear whether it was talking about his medical history or his activities on the island.
"The Government of Cuba regrets the distortions that are being spread on the subject of Mr. Gross' health and respects his right to the privacy of doctor-patient information," the statement read. "Cuba demands that this campaign of fabrications ceases; should it continue, there will be no other alternative than to publish abundant information on the subject."
Gross's attorney, Peter J. Kahn, told The Associated Press earlier this week that his client was having difficulty walking and has developed a mass behind his right shoulder blade, and he accused the Cuban government of withholding the results of medical tests performed last month..
"They still haven't shown up, and we're not getting a straight answer as to why, which causes us even more concern because maybe there is something serious going on here," Kahn said.
Those comments were echoed by the State Department, which called for Gross's immediate release.
"We are extremely concerned about Alan Gross' health," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, adding that he has degenerative arthritis which has gotten worse because he is not allowed to walk in his cell.
Gross's wife, Judy, has previously said her husband's condition was worsening. Gross, who was overweight at the time of his December 2009 arrest, has lost more than 100 pounds while in jail. His family says he is also under enormous psychological stress because his elderly mother and adult daughter are both battling cancer.