The Cuban government has given a U.S. diplomat access to a jailed American citizen accused of providing communications equipment to dissident groups while working as a government contractor, a U.S. official in Havana said Tuesday.
The case has drawn denunciations from Cuban President Raul Castro and further strained U.S.-Cuba relations after months of slow but steady progress toward easing their half-century diplomatic standoff.
The visit by a consular official took place Monday at an undisclosed location where the American is being held following his arrest in early December, according to a spokeswoman at the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains in Havana instead of an embassy.
“We were given access by the Cubans yesterday,” Gloria Berbena told The Associated Press. “He was visited by a consular representative from the U.S. Interests Section.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the Obama administration remains “focused on the welfare of the detained U.S. citizen.”
Both declined to give any further details on the encounter, the detained man’s whereabouts or his condition, citing federal privacy laws. Neither government has identified him.
The State Department said previously that he was working as a subcontractor for the Maryland-based economic development organization Development Alternatives Inc.
Jim Boomgard, the company’s president and chief executive, said he was part of a new USAID program intended to “strengthen civil society in support of just and democratic governance in Cuba.”
After two weeks of silence, Raul Castro first acknowledged the detention in an address to Parliament on Dec. 20, saying the American was arrested for distributing illegal satellite communications equipment.
“The United States won’t quit trying to destroy the revolution,” Castro said, referring to the rebellion led by his brother Fidel, which triumphed on New Year’s Day 1959.
“In the past few weeks, we have witnessed the stepping up of the new administration’s efforts in this area,” he said, adding that the arrest “demonstrates that the enemy is as active as ever.”
Relations between Cuba and the United States began improving — albeit modestly — after President Barack Obama took office in January. The U.S. president lifted financial and travel restriction on Cuban-Americans wishing to visit relatives on the island, and the two sides began talks on restarting direct mail service.
But hopes of detente have sputtered in recent weeks.
Cuba held extensive war games to prepare for what it said was a possible U.S. invasion. Washington denounced an alleged assault on a dissident blogger by state security agents. And both Fidel Castro and Cuba’s foreign minister criticized Obama’s performance at the Copenhagen climate summit.
A round of migration talks that had been scheduled to take place in Havana this month was postponed, with both sides blaming the other for the delay.