Hunger strike in Cuba
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    Family, friends of US contractor held in Cuba plead for US to do more to secure release

    Family, friends of US contractor held in Cuba plead for US to do more to
    secure release
    By Barnini Chakraborty Published April 13, 2014FoxNews.com

    WASHINGTON – For Alan Gross, the American contractor locked up in a
    Cuban prison on spying charges, the road to freedom seems increasingly
    out of reach.

    The Maryland resident, who repeatedly has denied working for any
    intelligence agency, was arrested by Cuban authorities in 2009, stripped
    of his rights and thrown into a foreign prison.

    Since then, his family has worked tireless – and unsuccessfully — to
    bring him home.

    Gross currently is being held at the Carlos Finlay Military Hospital in
    the Havana Providence in Cuba where he spends 23 hours a day in a small
    cell with two other men. He is let out of his cramped quarters for an
    hour each day, led to a small courtyard with high walls and if he is
    lucky, he gets to catch a glimpse of the sun.

    After his 60 minutes are up, the 64-year-old man who is facing another
    long decade behind bars heads back to his cell.

    The details of Gross’ daily routine were relayed to FoxNews.com by his
    legal team. With Gross starting, and recently ending, a one-week hunger
    strike, he and his supporters are trying to draw more attention to his
    case and urge the U.S. government to do more to help.

    In December — the four-year anniversary of his imprisonment – Gross
    wrote President Obama a letter pleading for the White House to get
    involved and negotiate his release.

    So far, Gross hasn’t heard back, his camp tells FoxNews.com. But that’s
    where the stories start to blur.

    The White House is on record multiple times calling on the Cuban
    government to let Gross go. Gross was working at the time of his arrest
    as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development on
    expanding Internet access.

    In December, around the same time Gross sent the letter to the
    president, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Gross
    was a “dedicated professional with a long history of providing aid to
    underserved communities in more than 50 countries” and called for his
    release.

    In the past, the Obama administration has called Gross’ case a sticking
    point in improving ties with Cuba but has rejected any prisoner trade
    for Gross.

    In March 2011, following Gross’s sentencing, Philip Crowley, the
    assistant secretary in the bureau of public affairs at the State
    Department, issued a statement: “We deplore this ruling.”

    “Alan Gross is a dedicated international development worker who has
    devoted his life to helping people in more than 50 countries,” Crowley
    said. “He was in Cuba to help the Cuban people connect with the rest of
    the world.”

    Still, while U.S. officials say they’re pressing his case, it’s unclear
    to what lengths they have gone to pursue his release. Attorney Scott
    Gilbert said: “We really hope that the two governments can work
    something out and do what it takes. He wants to come home … the only
    way that will happen is if Obama gets involved, and that hasn’t happened.”

    Gross, a native New Yorker, moved south where attended school at the
    University of Maryland and at Virginia Commonwealth University in
    Richmond, Va., where he studied social work.

    In 2001, Gross formed the Joint Business Development Center — a Chevy
    Chase, Md.-based company that works to increase Internet connections abroad.

    As the boss, his career took him around the world. His passport has been
    stamped in Africa, Europe, Afghanistan and Iraq.

    His friends and family describe the 64-year-old, white-haired contractor
    as a gentle humanitarian, a loving husband and father of two girls, now
    grown up and living in Oregon and Israel. His wife, Judy, a social
    worker, is still by his side and lobbying for his release.

    “I’ve been begging our government for more than four years to bring Alan
    home,” she said in a written statement. “I’m worried sick about Alan’s
    health, and I don’t think he can survive much more of this.”

    Gross has lost 110 pounds in prison. He has a growing list of health
    problems and is considerably weaker, his camp says.

    It’s been hard on Judy, too. In the four years her husband has been in a
    Cuban prison, she has been forced to sell their Maryland home, unable to
    afford the mortgage in the upscale Potomac, Md., neighborhood.

    Last week, Gross announced through his attorney Gilbert that we was
    going on a hunger strike, “enraged” over recent reports about the
    controversial “Cuban Twitter” project, first reported by The Associated
    Press.

    The project, a communication network called ZunZuneo, was reportedly
    built to stir unrest on the island. USAID, the same agency Gross was
    working for when he was arrested in 2009, was behind the now-defunct
    project. Gross and his supporters voiced concern that the project could
    have put him at additional risk.

    “I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions and inaction by both
    governments, not only regarding their shared responsibility for my
    arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack of any responsible or
    valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal,” Gross said via a
    telephone conversation he had with Gilbert.

    By Friday, Gross had called off the strike.

    Disheartened, his friends, family and legal team say they’ll push even
    harder for his release, especially in light of the ZunZuneo report. They
    argue the government has put his safety at risk and continues to do so
    every day he is in Cuba. They also blame his employer – USAID. “Once
    Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety
    even further by running a covert operation in Cuba,” Gilbert said in a
    statement.

    Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said earlier this week he’s gotten
    emails from USAID employees “all over the world” asking “how could they
    do this, to put us in such danger?”

    At issue are a range of secretive USAID programs the agency claims are
    not “covert” – but aren’t widely publicized either. Having them outed,
    some argue, leaves contractors like Gross in danger.

    USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said the responsibility for Gross’
    imprisonment lies with Cuba.

    “The State Department has led an aggressive effort to help Alan secure
    his release,” Shah said at the same Senate subcommittee.

    Source: Family, friends of US contractor held in Cuba plead for US to do
    more to secure release | Fox News –
    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/04/12/family-friends-us-contractor-held-in-cuba-pleads-to-obama-for-his-release/

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