The Cuban government announced Alan Gross would not be freed, dashing hopes of a breakthrough for the Jewish American contractor jailed for three years on spying charges.
After promising an “announcement” about Gross, Cuba issued a statement Wednesday morning claiming that he was in good health. It made no mention of plans to free him.
The alert came hours after a New York rabbi visited Gross at a military hospital in Havana and told the Associated Press that he appeared to be in relatively good health.
Rabbi Elie Abadie, who is also a gastroenterologist, told the AP that he met with Gross for 2-1/2 hours and also received a lengthy briefing from a team of Cuban physicians.
Abadie said a growth on Gross’s shoulder appeared to be non-cancerous and it does not pose a serious health risk.
“Alan Gross does not have any cancerous growth at this time, at least based on the studies I was shown and based on the examination, and I think he understands that also,” Abadie told the AP.
The flurry of activity came amid speculation that Cuba may hope to use Gross’s possible release to improve relations with the U.S., especially after the reelection of President Obama, who in the past has called for an end to the 50-year-old embargo of the island nation.
Cuba expert Jaime Suchlicki, of Miami University, published an article in the Miami Herald hinting that Cuba is considering a pardon for Gross.
Suchlicki, director of the university’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, told the Forward that his source is a former Cuban intelligence official living in Miami.
An ardent critic of the Castro regime, Suchlicki said he hoped that the Obama Administration would make no concessions if Gross were to be freed.
The developments follow several weeks of intense pressure on the Cuban and American governments to resolve Gross’s case.
Gross was arrested in Havana, in December 2009, while working as a contractor for the United States Agency for International Development. He claimed to have been trying to help improve internet access for the island’s Jewish community, but he was accused of working to subvert the Cuban government.
When Gross was arrested, he was found in possession of high-tech satellite equipment commonly used by the Defense Department.
In recent weeks, Gross’s wife Judy and a human rights lawyer, Jared Genser, have embarked on a campaign to draw greater attention to the case and to increase pressure on the Cuban regime. Gross’ supporters saw the time as ripe, coming soon after Barack Obama’s re-election to a second term.
The Gross campaign strategy included reporting Cuba to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture claiming that an insufficient amount of medical attention was being given to Alan and that it constituted torture. Gross’s health has deteriorated rapidly since he was jailed. He has lost more than 100 pounds and he has developed a mass on his shoulder, which Cuba insists is not life-threatening but that his family says could be cancerous.
On November 16, Alan and Judy Gross filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government and Development Alternatives Inc, the contractor that sent Gross to Cuba, claiming that they failed to adequately train him or warn him of the risks of working in Cuba.