Cuba Claims Jailed U.S. Contractor is a Spy

The United States denies claims by a top Cuban official who alleged the computer specialist detained in Cuba for more than a month was "working for American intelligence."

By Melissa Arteaga Marti | PODER360.com
Illustration by Tailer Senior

Ricardo Alarcon, the head of Cuba's parliament, told reporters that the man, who works as a Washington-based contractor for the United States Agency for International Development, was detained on December 5th at Havana airport after distributing satellite equipment and hooking up internet connections.

The American, a 40-year-old computer specialist who has not been publicly named by Washington or Havana, was part of the U.S.'s "privatization of war", Alarcon told AP.

U.S. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Thursday the charges are false and that the man is not associated with the U.S. intelligence services.  

Analysts speculate that the Cuban government may use the contractor as a diplomatic pawn in its quest to gain the release of five convicted Cuban spies jailed in the U.S.

Exactly what the contractor was doing in Cuba remains a mystery. His name has been withheld, and U.S. officials have so far not make a major issue out of his detention.

"If the contractor was engaged in nothing more than innocent wrongdoing, I could imagine the U.S. government raising hell and pressing vociferously for his release," Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington told the Washington Post. "But the U.S. has been very quiet, which suggests he was up to some hanky-panky," he added.

Critics’ say the $45 million U.S. program designed to promote a “transition to democracy,” is inherently flawed. Promoting the spread of independent news and ideas might be a good idea in principle, but it was a political minefield. Satellite phones are illegal in Cuba, and anyone caught sneaking them into the island via a U.S. government funded program could easily be portrayed as a spy.

"This was an accident waiting to happen," told the Miami Herald. "It’s right there in black and white written in American law: the intent of this program is to overthrow the government.... People sent in are a risk because of that factor."

The alleged spy case comes at a time of seemingly deteriorating relations between Cuba and the U.S., marking the end of a quasi honeymoon between the Obama administration and Cuba’s communist leadership. Cuban officials have lately issued a series of bitingly personal criticisms of Obama.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez last month vented at Obama during the Copenhagen Climate Summit, calling him “an arrogant and imperial” liar. Cuban officials also protested this week about increased air travel security measures introduced by the U.S., which targeted a list of countries, including Cuba, considered to be state sponsors of terrorism. Many analysts argue that Cuba is justly miffed that it remains on the list, arguing that the island has not been implicated in any recent act of terrorism against the U.S.

The recent war of words has already had a chilling effect on some private U.S. efforts to foster a rapprochement with the island.

Smith, who opposes the U.S. embargo against Cuba, was supposed to accompany Retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey on a trip to Havana his week to discuss how the two countries could cooperate on fighting drug trafficking. But General McCaffrey withdrew in response to recent sharp criticisms of President Obama by Cuban officials.

"This type of shallow and vitriolic 1960s public diplomacy also makes Cuban leadership appear to be non-serious, polemical amateurs," he wrote in a letter to Smith. "President Obama is the most thoughtful and non-ideological U.S. chief executive that the Cubans have seen in 50 years."

Development Alternatives Inc., the U.S. company that employed the contractor, has also denied the espionage charges.

"The detained DAI subcontractor was not working for any intelligence service," said company president James Boomgard in a statement.

He called the detained U.S. citizen "a committed development professional with many years of experience providing humanitarian and development assistance worldwide."

Boomgard said the subcontractor had been employed by DAI to work on a U.S. Agency for International Development project to help Cuba "improve its ability to communicate with its members across the island and overseas."

"His activities included the distribution of basic IT equipment such as cell phones and laptops designed to facilitate this communication," the company president said.


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