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