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New Wrinkle in US-Cuba Prison Spat

Cuba and the United States are in yet another spat, this time over the mistreatment of Alan Gross, an American citizen who has been held in Cuban prison since 2009. The State Department alleges that Gross has been receiving poor medical care and has lost more than 100 pounds in prison—charges denied by the Cuban government. The BBC reports:

Spokeswoman Josefina Vidal said a biopsy on a mass that had appeared on his shoulder showed he did not have cancer, as his family had feared.

She added that there was no need for an independent doctor’s report, says the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Havana.

“He receives systematic attention from an excellent world class medical team; the best specialists of our country have been put at his disposal, when required,” said Ms Vidal.

The Gross case has been a sticking point between the two countries for years now; Gross was convicted in 2011 for illegally smuggling computers into Cuba as part of a covert operation on behalf of the U.S. government, and for crimes against the state. Both the U.S. State Department and Gross’ lawyers have maintained that he was simply delivering computers to Cuba’s Jewish community on behalf of USAID.

Although the Cubans are happy to paint this as a simple judicial matter, it’s more likely that there’s something going on here behind the scenes. There have been signs that Obama is prepared for a thaw in American relations with Cuba; the Castros have continued to use cases like these to hold the administration at arm’s length. Resolving the Gross case would give the Obama administration the political space for a significant opening to Cuba. The Castros don’t want this to happen, and so they are stonewalling.

This isn’t the first time this has happened: As far back as the 1970s, the Nixon administration sought improved relations with Cuba, with no results. Similar dynamics have played out on many separate occasions since Nixon’s overtures, and there is no sign that the Castros are prepared to reverse course for Obama.

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