Thursday, February 2, 2012

U.S. citizen arrested in Havana fuels speculation: another Alan Gross case?

A Miami newspaper today reported that a Cuban-born American citizen has been arrested by state security police in Havana and is facing criminal charges there.

José Ramón Darias Tarrago, 51, is a resident of Homestead, Fla. He arrived in the United States from Cuba in 1995 and is married to Viviana Darias, also 51, who left Cuba in 1992. The couple married in the U.S. and later became naturalized citizens. They have a 15 year old son.

Viviana Darias related this information in an interview with the Spanish language paper, El Nuevo Herald:

Her 76 year old father, who lived in Cuba, suffered from cancer. He traveled to Florida to visit family members in late 2011, and became quite ill during his stay. When it was time for him to return to Havana, her husband, José Darias, accompanied him on the flight. It was José's intention to visit other family members during a two day stay on the island. (Viviana's father has since died, on Feb. 5).

When José Darias arrived at José Martí International Airport in Havana on Jan. 14, he was detained by Cuban immigration agents for over two hours, who questioned him extensively about various people whom he claims not to know. Darias was released at the end of the interview and told he could enter the country. Two days later, on Jan. 16, he returned to the airport for his flight back to Miami. Darias was arrested before he could board.

According to family members in Cuba, quoted by Viviana during the interview, José Darias has been charged with entering the island with false documents, or trafficking in false documents, or both. He was moved from Havana to a jail cell in Camagüey, Cuba, a city of 350,000 in the interior of the country, allegedly because that's where importance evidence against him is located.

Viviana Darias said that family members visited her husband in jail on Jan. 23, and that he continues to believe the case will be quickly cleared up because it was all a "mistake."

El Nuevo Herald said that its efforts to contact the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, the limited diplomatic mission which the country maintains in the United States, were unsuccessful. The paper quoted a Republican member of Florida's U.S. congressional delegation who condemned the detention of José Darias.

In December 2009 another U.S. citizen, Alan Gross, was arrested at the same airport as he was preparing to board a return flight to Washington, D.C. Gross, a Maryland resident, was convicted of state security offenses by a Cuban criminal court in March 2011, and sentenced to 15 years. Former president Jimmy Carter and ex-New Mexico governor Bill Richardson were unable to secure Gross' release during visits to the island last year.

Gross, who is Jewish, has been described as a "humanitarian aid worker" by family and supporters, who claimed that he traveled to Cuba "to work with the small Jewish community there to improve their internet access and create an intranet for them." Internet access is tightly controlled by Cuban authorities, and is unavailable to most people. What is not disputed by anyone is that Gross made multiple trips to the island in 2008 and 2009, traveling under a tourist visa. The U.S. government has said that Gross' improper visa declaration was nothing more than "a technical violation" of Cuban law, but it was unquestionably one of the factors which contributed to his conviction last year.

In an article published in May 2011, former CIA agent Philip Giraldi alleged that Gross was paid $500,000 by the U.S. State Dept.'s Agency for International Development (AID), to travel to Cuba "to hand out laptop computers and cell and satellite phones to the local 1,000 strong Jewish community" on the island. If the story is accurate such activities made Gross far more than a humanitarian aid worker and would have been been regulated by Cuban law, requiring official permission. Other sources have since confirmed the claims.

Gross and his attorneys have issued several press releases since his conviction declaring that he was "used, duped and was a trusting fool," without elaborating further. The matter of Alan Gross has further complicated U.S.-Cuba relations, and resulted in a hard freeze of what many had hoped would be a warming trend after Obama was elected in 2008. Now some may be wondering if the case of José Darias will present yet another roadblock to the normalization of relations between two countries separated by less than 100 miles of open sea, but more than a half century of Cold War logic and chronic saber rattling.

The Alan Gross story:
Alan Gross exposed:
Judy Gross asks Obama: please bring my husband home:
No Christmas pardon for Alan Gross:
Alan Gross y Los Cinco de Miami:
Alan Gross supporters take their release crusade on the road:
U.S. double standard on prisoners hurts Alan Gross:

U.S. embargo of Cuba turns 50:

Why it's time to end the Cuban embargo:

Hemingway Bar opens at Cuban consulate in Washington:

What does Che Guevara have to do with Mercedes-Benz?:

Alan and Judy Gross

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