Jailed American development worker Alan Gross sued the federal government and the private company that sent him to Cuba for $60 million, saying they should have done more to train and prepare him for a high-risk mission to Havana.
Their suit, filed on Nov. 16 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., said Maryland contractor Development Alternatives Inc., or DAI, showed “willful disregard for Mr. Gross’ rights and safety.” (Download lawsuit).
The lawsuit said DAI failed to disclose the risks that Gross faced, put profits before safety and did nothing even after Gross repeatedly “expressed concerns about the operation.”
The suit also claims that USAID violated its own internal directives, failing to prevent Cuban authorities from arresting Gross. DAI had no immediate response to the lawsuit, and the State Department has declined to comment.
USAID had given DAI the authority to “establish operations supporting the creation of a USAID Mission” in Cuba. According to the company’s agreement with USAID, DAI was to:
Develop and . . . activate plans for launching a rapid-response programmatic platform that will meet USAID’s interest for having and coordinating an on-island presence.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., told the New York Times that he would not support any cuts to the U.S. government’s Cuba programs even if that could help secure Gross’s release. He said:
I’m not into negotiating for someone who is clearly a hostage of the Cuban regime.
Gross’s wife, Judy, told the newspaper that she now believes that the position of Menendez and other hard-liners is blocking her husband’s release. Speaking of her husband, she said:
He is a pawn of these very radical right-wing Cuba haters, for lack of a better word, who don’t want to see any changes happen, even to get Alan home.
Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, wrote a letter urging the U.S. government to take a hard line:
Any major policy concession to Cuba will be out of proportion to the release of an unjustly imprisoned American. Gross is a hostage being used by the Cuban government to exact change from the U.S. The history of U.S-Cuba relations has been characterized by Cuba’s daring actions followed by major U.S. concessions (i.e. U.S.-Cuba migration accord allowing 20,000 Cubans to enter the United States following Mariel).
The release of Gross should be seen as a humanitarian gesture requiring no action on the part of the United States. When Raúl Castro is willing to offer irreversible concessions, the administration should respond in kind. Ping-pong diplomacy worked with China. Tit for tat should with Cuba.
Phil Peters, a former State Department official and creator of the Cuban Triangle blog, called Suchlicki’s letter “ridiculous.”
The narrative that calls Gross a “hostage” fails to consider that the American was in Cuba without permission carrying out actions that the Cuban government regards as illegal as part of a broader U.S. plan to topple the socialist government.
Also in November, Gross’s lawyer, Jared Genser, wrote a letter to United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez, complaining that detaining Gross without allowing his own doctor to examine him amounts to torture.
The American’s family says he has a growth near his shoulder that could be a cancerous tumor. Cuban officials dispute that and say an American doctor, Elie Abadie, examined Gross and found that the growth was not cancerous.
José Ramón Cabañas, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, wrote a letter to several American lawmakers, defending his government’s treatment of Gross. The letter said, in part:
I wish to assure you that the Cuban Government is sensitive to the humanitarian concerns associated to this case and has expressed to the Government of the United States its willingness to find a reciprocal humanitarian solution that would also take into account highly sensitive humanitarian concerns of utmost importance for Cuba and its people.
To demand from and hope for the Cuban Government to take the unilateral decision of releasing Mr. Gross without giving any consideration whatsoever to the legitimate concerns of our country is not a realistic approach.
I can assure you that the health condition of Mr. Gross is normal for a person who suffers from chronic illnesses that are typical of his age, which are receiving adequate treatment.