02/02/2012 02:38 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2012

The Cases of Alan Gross and the Cuban Five

With contributions from Wayne S. Smith

The way may be opening for increased U.S.-Cuban ties. The United States has removed all restrictions on Cuban-American travel from the U.S. to Cuba and all limitations on Cuban-American remittances to families on the island. Coming at a time when the Cuban government is encouraging the establishment of small private enterprises, this opens the way for importantly increased ties between the two communities -- as one observer put it: "for an inflow of capital from the U.S. to Cuba."

There is, however, the proverbial "fly in the ointment" and that is the case of Alan Gross, arrested on December 3 of 2009 and since then representing a major obstacle to improved relations -- along with the case of the Cuban Five on the other side (but more on that later).

Who is Alan Gross?

Alan Gross is a 61 year-old Jewish U.S. citizen from Potomac, Maryland who is an employee of Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), a subcontractor of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) which itself is a dependency of the State Department. In December 2009, when Gross was about to leave Cuba with a simple tourist visa-after his fifth visit that year -- Cuban state security authorities detained him at the International Airport in Havana.

An investigation discovered links between him and the internal opposition to the Cuban government. Gross had been distributing among the opposition portable computers and satellite telephones as part of the State Department program for "promoting democracy in Cuba."

A long-distance communications technology expert, Gross has great experience in the field. He has worked in more than 50 nations and set up satellite communications systems during the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan to circumvent channels controlled by local authorities.

Possession of a satellite phone is strictly forbidden in Cuba for national security reasons and telecommunications are a state monopoly with competition forbidden.

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