The State Department has rejected as false a Cuban charge an American contractor arrested there in December was on an intelligence mission. Cuban parliamentary leader Ricardo Alarcon raised the spy allegation on Wednesday.
In an escalation of rhetoric over the case of the detained American, the State Department has flatly rejected Cuba's charge the contractor had links to U.S. intelligence.
The comments by Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley came a day after veteran Cuban politician Ricardo Alarcon said the man arrested December 4 worked for U.S. spy agencies and was part of "privatization of war" against Cuba's communist government.
Neither government has identified the detained man by name. But the State Department has said he worked for a suburban Washington private firm, Development Alternatives.
The company says the man was part of a U.S. government-financed program to strengthen civil society in Cuba.
U.S. officials and Congressional sources have been quoted as saying the man had been in Cuba on a tourist visa and had distributed cell phones, computers and other communications equipment to Cuban democracy activists.
Alarcon, who long served as Cuba's ambassador to the United Nations, said the man was part of a new organization, contracted to work for U.S. intelligence, made up of what he termed "agents, torturers and spies."
Crowley told reporters Alarcon's depiction of the man was part of a Cuban "history of mischaracterizing" U.S. activities and that the man is "not associated" with U.S. intelligence.
Crowley would not go into specifics about what the American was doing in Cuba, but said he was part of a "long history" of U.S. efforts to build civil society in Cuba and elsewhere.
"The individual in question was there and was part of a process whereby we continue to encourage and help facilitate Cuban citizens being able to do what citizens in most other parts of the world get to do: connect with the Internet, be able to communicate, be able to offer and express their views on a variety of subjects," said Mr. Crowley.
Cuban official Alarcon said the detained American was still under investigation and had not yet been charged with any offense.
The State Department says officials of the U.S. diplomatic Interests Section in Havana were allowed to meet with him December 28.
Crowley declined specific comment on reports the Obama administration has suspended the program the man was involved in.
But he said the program was designed to support and show respect for fundamental freedoms in Cuba and said the United States is not going to step back from what he termed "that critical objective." He also said he was unaware of any instructions sent out to those working on such programs not to continue them.