Carter aide: Gross didn't know he was taking US-financed equipment to Cuba
An aide to former President Jimmy Carter said Alan Gross, the U.S.
contractor jailed in Cuba, did not know he was carrying equipment
financed by the United States.
By Frances Robles And Juan O. Tamayo
NEW YORK -- The U.S. government contractor jailed in Cuba for bringing
satellite phones to Jewish groups claims he was unaware that he was
carrying equipment financed by the United States, a former top aide to
President Jimmy Carter said Thursday.
Former National Security Adviser Robert Pastor, who served as the White
House's point man on Cuba, accompanied Carter on his trip to Havana this
week. The former president met with both the Castro brothers as well as
Alan Gross, an American development worker who was sentenced to 15 years
in prison after getting caught smuggling sat phones, which he claimed
were to provide Internet to Jewish groups.
"We did meet with Gross. He claims not to know he was bringing equipment
from the U.S. government," Pastor told a Cuban conference audience at
the Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies at the City University
of New York. "The facts are simply not all that clear, and this is
coming from someone who has spoken to all sides of this, often."
Carter also met with Jewish group leaders, who claimed they knew nothing
about Gross or his phones, said Pastor, now a professor at American
University in Washington.
Gross' trial was closed to the media, and Pastor's comments marked the
first time anyone indicated that the long-time development worker —
considered a "mercenary" by the Cuban government — was unaware of the
nature of his work. Pressed for details after his speech, Pastor said he
regretted "getting into that level of detail."
"I did not speak to him. I do not feel authorized to say what he said,"
Pastor said in an interview.
Gross, Pastor said, hopefully will not serve as long a term in prison as
the "Cuban Five" intelligence agents imprisoned in the United States —
"A case could be made that a humanitarian gesture after 13 years in
prison should be seriously considered" by the Obama administration, he
said. He added that both Havana and Washington made it clear they were
not interested in a prisoner swap.
Havana is worried about "future Alan Grosses" as the Obama
administration has not scrapped the U.S. Agency for International
Development program that funded his trip.
Gross' wife Judy and the company that sent him, Development Alternatives
Inc., could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
Carter, his wife Rosalynn and his retinue spent nearly six hours —
including dinner — with the 79-year-old Raúl Castro, who replaced
brother Fidel, at first temporarily and then officially, after Fidel
suffered a nearly fatal health crisis in 2006.
"He is secure in his position and aware of his age and limited time to
undertake reforms that he's now convinced are needed to improve the
economy,'' Pastor said.
The reforms include a significant expansion of private businesses,
profound cuts in government subsidies and other measures expected to be
taken up at a congress of the ruling Communist Party that starts April 16.
Pastor is too optimistic because Castro will never surrender his
political controls or his anti-Washington bent, said Jaime Suchlicki,
head of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the
University of Miami.
"Yes he's undertaking limited reforms, but he's not going to dismantle
communism or create a capitalist society,'' Suchlicki said. "There will
be no political opening and his government will remain repressive and