Author: Zuleika Rivera
Alan Gross’s arrest and detention in Cuba has been one of the major roadblocks to improvement in relations between the United States and Cuba since 2009. Gross was arrested while trying to establish a military-style satellite system that would provide Cubans with Internet, but he had no permission from the Cuban government to carry out this project. At the time, Gross was working for Development Alternatives Inc, a company affiliated with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The Cuban government charged Gross with committing crimes against the state and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
After USAID’s ZunZuneo program became public, Gross began a hunger strike in protest of the U.S. government continuing to pursue covert projects in Cuba rather than dialoguing with the Cuban government to negotiate his release. Gross was not aware of the ZunZuneo program that started the same year of his arrest. Mr. Gross’s attorney said that this “was the final straw for him.” While Gross did break Cuban law, the Obama Administration and USAID have not done much to negotiate his release. They have called upon the Cuban government to release Gross on humanitarian grounds of Gross but the Cuban government would like to sit down with the U.S. government to discuss the case of the remaining members of the Cuban 5 still in jail here in the U.S. However the U.S. has consistently said that the topic of the Cuban 5 is not up for discussion when it comes to Alan Gross’ situation and thus, progress towards improving relations has been thwarted for the past four and a half years.
Since his hunger strike, Alan Gross is not doing well. In a statement released by Gross’ lawyers he vowed that May 2 will be his last birthday in Cuba. Gross says he will return to the United States “dead or alive” before his 66th birthday. This is not intended as a threat but a statement of hope that the President will engage in the issue. Here is the full statement:
“HAVANA – Alan Gross, the 64-year-old USAID subcontractor who has spent nearly four-and-a-half years in a Cuban prison, said he plans to return home to the United States, whether alive or dead.
Gross recently spent nine days on a hunger strike to protest both the Cuban and American governments that have left him in limbo, facing 11 more years on his prison sentence. He was particularly frustrated that USAID undertook the ZunZuneo “Cuban Twitter” program shortly after his arrest and imprisonment, further endangering his situation here.
“On May 2nd, I turn 65-years-old and it will be my last birthday here,” said a frail Gross. “It means what it means. It’s not a threat, it’s a statement of hope, a statement of determination and a statement of impatience.”
Gross was arrested and imprisoned for his work on behalf of USAID to bring Internet access to the Jewish community in Havana. Since his imprisonment, he has lost more than 110 pounds. He is kept under guard in a small cell with two other inmates and the lights are on 24 hours a day. He has lost partial vision in his right eye and suffers from pain in both hips and in his back.
At the four-year anniversary of his imprisonment, Gross wrote to President Obama and asked him to get personally involved in bringing him home to the U.S.
From prison, Gross said, “I’m now eligible for Medicare, but what I want is Presidential care. I want the President to care.”
Gross’s attorney, Scott Gilbert, spent nearly two hours Wednesday meeting with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to discuss Alan Gross’s situation.
Rodriguez reiterated his government’s interest in having high-level officials meet with their U.S. counterparts to discuss terms of a resolution. Rodriguez emphasized that Cuba would place no pre-conditions on such a negotiation.”
At a State Department briefing on April 23rd, a response was requested regarding Gross’ most recent press release. Jen Psaki, the spokesperson for the State Department reiterated that the State Department remains “concerned” about Gross’ situation. “We recognize that Mr. Gross is in an extremely difficult situation… We have made abundantly clear to Cuban officials our position that Mr. Gross ought to be released immediately. President Obama has engaged foreign leaders and other international figures to use their influence with Cuba to promote his release, and we’ve kept the case at the forefront of our discussions.”
Now is the time for the President and the State Department to pursue high-level dialogue with the Cuban government to negotiate Alan Gross’ release. Taking this step will not only help reunite a family, but clear the path for more dialogue between the United States and Cuba—on removing Cuba from the terrorist list, on easing travel restrictions on all categories of “legal” travel, on allowing financial support for Cuba’s emerging small businesses. The majority of Cuban Americans and U.S. citizens are firmly calling for more engagement between our two countries. Helping to release Alan Gross from jail will open up opportunities for that change to happen.