"Contractor Jailed in Cuba Was Aiding Religious Groups, U.S. Says"
Ginger Thompson and Marc Lacey report that our man (in jail) in Havana is named Alan P. Gross.
Though Cuba has accused him of being an spy, American officials now reveal that he is in fact "a social worker who had gone to Cuba to provide communications equipment to Jewish groups."
See another preliminary report on the case from The Washington Post. The Post story has been translated into Spanish by the Nuevo Herald.
This is the first time we learn the contractor's name, Alan P. Gross. (Tracey Eaton at Along the Malecon has done some good spadework on Gross' background here and here).
The fact that Gross is reported to be a social worker (as opposed to a spy) and seems to have been aiding religious groups, Jewish ones at that! (as opposed to dissidents or bloggers), is sure to muddy the waters in the debate over USAID programs in "enemy" states, giving even more "legs" to this already quite sensational (and still developing) story.
Next we will learn that Mr. Gross' previous assignment was to provide medical care to the poor in the Caracas slums (oh wait, Cuba is already doing that)!
The case continues to raise more questions than answers.
- How much of what Gross was doing in Cuba could have been accomplished openly and legally (by both countries' standards) through existing humanitarian and religious channels?
- Given this new information, can we take the Cuban government's arrest of Gross at face value - that they were protecting Cuban national security by arresting a foreign agent/spy?
- Is the arrest better understood as a symbolic message to Obama? (But what is the message: Is it about the continuity of U.S. policy, about the Cuban Five, or even an effort to sabotage any thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations)?
- Finally, comparisons with the situation of the Cuban Five are inevitable. These are five "unregistered Cuban agents" now serving long terms in U.S. federal prison, convicted (in Miami) of spying. Were they really Cuban "spies" or just "contractors" working to strengthen Cuban national security in the face of a history of violent attacks coming from Miami's hardline exile groups?
- Whether Gross is a spy or not, Havana may be trying to turn the tables on Washington, teaching Obama the lesson that one country's spy is another country's harmless contractor working non-violently to help citizens and protect national security, or vice versa.