The yearlong detention of an American subcontractor by Cuba is a "major impediment" to improved ties, the U.S. State Department said Friday, some of the strongest language yet from Washington in a case that has short-circuited nascent hopes for rapprochement between the Cold War enemies.
The statement from department spokesman P.J. Crowley comes on the one-year anniversary of the arrest of Alan Gross, whom Cuban President Raul Castro has accused of spying. Gross has not been charged with any crime, however.
"It is long overdue for Cuban authorities to release Mr. Gross," the statement read. "He has languished in a Cuban jail for a full year and the Cuban Government has yet to explain reasons for his detention or file charges. His arrest and continued detention without charge violate international standards of due process and judicial procedure."
Cuban officials have said previously the case is working its way through the legal system and there is nothing unusual about the period he has spent in jail.
Gross, a native of Potomac, Maryland, was working for a firm contracted by USAID when he was arrested Dec. 3, 2009. His family denies he was spying, saying he brought communications equipment for use by the local Jewish community, not dissidents.
"Mr. Gross is an international development worker who traveled to Cuba to help connect members of the Jewish community in Havana with other Jewish communities throughout the world," Crowley said.
The leaders of the two largest groups for Cuba's 1,500-strong Jewish community said in Havana this week that they never met Gross and were not working with him.
Havana says USAID's programs to promote democratic change in Cuba are meant to subvert the government by bankrolling opposition activity.
Cuba and the United States have been at odds since shortly after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, and the U.S. has maintained an economic embargo on the island for 48 years.
Hopes for a thaw rose after the election of President Barack Obama, whose administration says it has worked to relieve tensions in a number of ways, including easing limits on Cuban-Americans who want to travel or send money to the island that were imposed by George W. Bush.
Senior officials from both countries have also met to discuss resuming direct mail service and tackle immigration issues, as well as relief efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
The Gross case has complicated such efforts.
"We will continue to use every available channel to urge the Cuban Government to put an end to Mr. Gross' long and unjustifiable ordeal," the State Department said Friday. "We have made it very clear to the Cuban Government that the continued detention of Alan Gross is a major impediment to advancing the dialogue between our two countries."
Associated Press writer Paul Haven in Havana contributed to this report.