The mother of an American being held by Cuba has passed away, a “devastating blow” after the Castro regime refused requests for one last visit with her imprisoned son.
Alan Gross, 65, a USAID subcontractor imprisoned by Cuba since December 2009, has lost more than 110 pounds in custody and is allowed out of his his tiny cell for only one hour per day.
His 92-year-old mother, Evelyn Gross, was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after Cuba arrested her son. Evelyn’s last wish was to see her son before she died, but Cuban officials refused to give Alan a humanitarian furlough to visit his mother despite repeated pleas.
She passed away Wednesday in Plano, Texas.
“This is a devastating blow for Alan and our family,” said Judy Gross, Alan’s wife. “I am extremely worried that now Alan will give up all hope of ever coming home and do something drastic.”
“Surely, there must be something President Obama can do to secure Alan’s immediate release.”
The Gross family noted in May that Alan vowed his 65th birthday would be the last he spends behind bars.
Alan was extremely close to his mother and spoke to her by phone twice a day before his arrest.
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. His recent 9-day hunger strike in protest of his sentence came to an end at his mother’s urging.
“Evelyn Gross loved her son dearly, and it’s a shame on the Castro regime that she had to spend the final years of her life pleading for his freedom,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
“This is a tragic example of just how cruel and heartless the Castro regime is. No son and no mother deserve the fate that Alan Gross and his mother faced over the last five years.”
Rubio stressed it’s a time to join the Gross family in solidarity as they grieve.
“But all decent people around the world should be outraged by the continued imprisonment of Alan Gross,” he said. “We should work for his immediate unconditional release and ensure that this already tragic story can at least end with Alan Gross’ freedom and reunification with his surviving family.”
The State Department did not issue a statement on Evelyn’s passing, but spokeswoman Jen Psaki was asked about the death of Gross’ mother at Wednesday’s press briefing — as well as the family’s concern that he might commit self-harm if not released soon.
“Well, I will say first that we of course express our deepest and sincerest condolences to Mr. Gross and his family on their loss. We obviously feel it is a tragedy that he was unable to be home in the United States at his mother’s bedside for her passing,” Psaki said.
“We’ve urged the Cuban Government to grant Mr. Gross a humanitarian furlough so that he can travel to the United States and be with his family during this time of mourning, and we’ve made very clear that this is a strong priority for us.”
She acknowledged that would entail returning Gross to Cuban custody. “That is what a furlough is. Yes.”
“I’m just not going to get into any greater level of detail on that front,” Psaki added.