Saying “enough is enough,” the wife of a U.S. subcontractor jailed in Cuba called on the Obama administration Wednesday — the fifth anniversary of Alan Gross’ arrest — to secure her husband’s release.
Alan Gross was working on a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontract when he was arrested in Havana in 2009 for secretly bringing satellite communications equipment into Cuba as part of the agency’s pro-democracy programs.
“Enough is enough. My husband has paid a terrible price for serving his country and community,” Judy Gross said in a statement. “Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end.”
Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence at the Carlos J. Finlay Military Hospital in Havana, has grown increasingly despondent during his five years in jail and his family says his health has suffered. He has lost more than 100 pounds, has trouble walking due to chronic pain and has lost much of the sight in his right eye and five teeth, according to his family.
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“After five years of literally wasting away, Alan is done,’’ said his wife. “It is time for President Obama to bring Alan back to the United States now; otherwise it will be too late.”
“The administration remains focused on securing Alan’s freedom from a Cuban prison, and returning him safely to his wife and children, where he belongs,” the White House said in a statement Wednesday. “We remain deeply concerned for Alan’s health, and reiterate our call for his release.’’
Gross said his goodbyes to his wife and daughter in July and said he didn’t want to see them again while he is still a prisoner. Gross’ lawyer Scott Gilbert visited him in Cuba last week but the USAID subcontractor refuses most visits these days.
Personnel from the U.S. Interests Section, which represents the U.S. government in Cuba because the countries don’t have diplomatic relations, used to visit on a monthly basis. But now Gross doesn’t want to see them and has refused a visit by Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the new chief of the Interests Section who took up his post in August.
The U.S. State Department has said Gross was working on a program to bring Internet access to the Jewish community in Cuba, but Cuban officials view the USAID pro-democracy programs as a way to destabilize their government.
Havana has said that Gross’ arrest and conviction stem from his involvement in a program to covertly introduce military-grade communications equipment into Cuba to create clandestine networks for the reception and transmission of data aimed at subversion.
Gross’ firm was working in Cuba under a subcontract with Maryland-based USAID contractor Development Alternatives Inc.
As the fifth anniversary of Gross’ arrest approached, members of the U.S. Jewish community rallied in his support and called on the Obama administration to do whatever necessary to bring him home.
Over the Jewish New Year, 12,000 sent emails to the White House asking: “Why is Alan Gross still in Cuba?”
“It is not our place to attempt to dictate what our government should do to bring Alan home,” the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington said in a recent statement. “But we simply cannot believe that after five years, the most powerful country on earth is unable to secure the release of one of its citizens, who is languishing in a foreign prison because of a mission he undertook on behalf of our country.”
While the United States is interested in the humanitarian release of Gross, Cuba would like to secure the release of three Cuban spies still jailed in the United States on espionage and conspiracy charges related to the Feb. 24, 1996 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes by Cuba and the resultant deaths of four exile pilots.
Two members of the so-called Cuban Five have finished their sentences and are now back in Cuba.
The United States has balked at any such exchange because it says Gross is not a spy and therefore can’t be swapped for spies. However, there are historical precedents for release of respective prisoners by Cuba and the United States in separate, non-equivalent “humanitarian gestures.”
In its statement, the White House made no mention of the Cuban prisoners, but said: “The Cuban government’s release of Alan on humanitarian grounds would remove an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba.”
In a briefing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest elaborated: “It’s going to be very difficult for us to make progress in that relationship as long as the Cuban government doesn't take the kinds of steps that we believe are necessary to secure Mr. Gross' humanitarian release.”
He added that there are “a range of concerns that we have with the Cuban government's refusal to respect some basic human rights” but that there is a desire to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Cuba.
On its website, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington featured an article about activists gathered in the Vatican last month for a popular movements meeting called by Pope Francis presenting the Pontiff with a letter asking him to encourage Obama to release the three remaining members of the Cuban Five so they could be home for “the upcoming holiday season.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Miami, also called for more action from the White House. “I urge the Obama administration to step up its efforts against the Castro regime with the goal of securing Alan Gross’ unconditional release.
“All free people and free nations around the world have a moral duty to advocate for Alan Gross’ immediate, unconditional freedom, and make clear that the freedom to access and communicate via an uncensored Internet is a fundamental human right,” Rubio said.