By Daniel Trotta
HAVANA (Reuters) - A U.S. contractor who has launched a hunger strike while serving a long prison term in Cuba is receiving "dignified and decent treatment" in a hospital ward, where he is in normal and stable health, Cuba said on Wednesday.
Cuba's communist government said it was concerned by a statement from Alan Gross's lawyer on Tuesday that said his client had begun a hunger strike last week to protest his treatment by the Cuban and U.S. governments.
The lawyer said Gross was confined to a small, constantly lit cell with two other prisoners for 23 hours a day, and that he had lost 10 pounds (4.5 kg) since beginning his hunger strike on Thursday, in addition to 110 pounds (50 kg) he has lost in prison over the previous four years.
Gross, 64, is serving a 15-year prison term for trying to start an illegal Internet service for Cuban Jews while working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Cuba called it a "subversive program financed by the government of the United States" that used illegal, undercover, and noncommercial technology.
"Mr. Gross has received dignified and decent treatment," Cuba's chief foreign ministry official for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, said in a statement. "Since his detention, he has been held in a hospital, not because his health requires it but because there he can be guaranteed specialized attention by highly qualified medical and health staff."
U.S. -Cuba relations, marked by more than half a century of hostility, took another setback last week with the revelation that USAID had established a secretive "Cuban Twitter" after Gross's arrest. Havana saw it as another U.S. attempt to subvert the communist government.
Gross's attorney, Scott Gilbert, criticized the United States on Tuesday for further endangering Gross by launching the social network, named ZunZuneo. That news prompted Gross to begin his hunger strike on Tuesday, Gilbert said.
Cuba has blamed the United States for Gross's incarceration and on Wednesday repeated its offer to enter talks that would also take up the cases of three Cuban agents serving long prison terms in the United States for spying on Cuban exile groups in Florida.
The United States has rejected any trade of the Cuban agents for Gross, and no formal talks have taken place.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta. Editing by David Adams and Peter Galloway)