The State Department marked the birthday of Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor imprisoned by Cuba since December 2009, as his family warned he may not live to see his next birthday under the Castro regime.
“Today is Alan Gross’s 65th birthday. Instead of celebrating it with his family where he belongs, Mr. Gross remains in a Cuban prison — where he has been held for more than four years,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement. “We remain deeply concerned about Mr. Gross’s well-being and again call on the Government of Cuba to release him and allow him to be reunited with his family.”
“His detention remains an impediment to more constructive relations between Cuba and the United States,” Harf added.
Gross’ family noted that today also marks his 1,612th day in a Cuban prison cell — agonizing years in which he’s lost more than 110 pounds and is allowed out his his tiny cell for only one hour per day.
Gross had wrapped up work on a project to increase Internet access and connectivity at Cuban synagogues when he was seized the night before he was to return home. He spent 14 months behind bars before any charges were filed, then in March 2011 was quickly tried and convicted of “acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state” for distributing cell phones and other communications equipment as part of the USAID project.
He was sentenced to 15 years behind bars. Gross, who recently completed a nine-day hunger strike, told his attorney that this will be the last birthday he spends in prison, one way or another.
“Our family has spent over five years suffering through Alan’s arrest, trial and imprisonment. He’s been ripped from our family, he has been unable to be there for us to deal with serious illnesses, and he has completely missed out on family gatherings, birthdays and our oldest daughter’s wedding,” said his wife, Judy Gross, in a statement Thursday. “As he marks his 65th birthday tomorrow, I worry he will not be able to carry on much longer. After years of inaction, I’m imploring President Obama to intervene personally on Alan’s behalf and bring him home to our family.”
Harf said last week that the case is one that “the secretary and other officials raise with our interlocutors who have relationships and have discussions with Cuba.”
“We recognize that Mr. Gross is in an extremely difficult situation. He’s been imprisoned by Cuban authorities for more than four years for doing nothing more than helping Cuban citizens gain access to the internet. 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. We reiterate, of course, our call for the Cuban government to release Alan Gross immediately. His detention remains an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba,” she said.
Comments that he may not leave prison alive “obviously…certainly are, of course, of great concern to us. His health and safety and well-being are on our minds every day, and that’s why we’re working so hard to secure his return.”