USAID subcontractor Alan Gross today marked the fifth anniversary of his arrest in Cuba.
He’s been behind bars in the communist regime for 1,826 days.
The 65-year-old Maryland resident’s health has deteriorated in Cuban custody, including the loss of more than 100 pounds and severe degenerative arthritis. “Alan has withdrawn, and he told me that his life in prison is not a life worth living,” Scott Gilbert, Gross’s attorney, said in August. “He’s confined to a small cell for 24 hours a day. He’s lost most of the vision in his right eye. His hips are failing and he can barely walk.”
His wife, Judy Gross, said in a heart-wrenching statement today, “I am afraid that we are at the end.”
“Enough is enough. My husband has paid a terrible price for serving his country and community,” she said. “…After five years of literally wasting away, Alan is done. It is time for President Obama to bring Alan back to the United States now; otherwise it will be too late.”
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. Earlier this year he completed a nine-day hunger strike, telling his attorney in May that his 65th birthday would be the last he spends in prison, one way or another.
In June, Judy Gross pleaded with President Obama “to do everything in his power to end this nightmare and bring Alan home from Cuba now.”
“If we can trade five members of the Taliban to bring home one American soldier, surely we can figure out a path forward to bring home one American citizen from a Cuban prison,” she said in reference to the Bowe Bergdahl swap.
In July, Alan Gross told his wife and daughter goodbye, refusing more visits from them — and from the U.S. government representative in Havana — while he’s wasting away in prison.
The best the State Department mustered to mark the solemn occasion was a statement from spokeswoman Marie Harf.
“It is gravely disappointing, especially in light of its professed goal of providing Cubans with internet access, that the Cuban government has not allowed Mr. Gross to return to his family, where he belongs,” Harf said. “We reiterate our call on the Cuban government, echoing foreign leaders and even Cuba’s allies, to release Alan Gross immediately.”
Harf’s statement noted that Gross was arrested “for facilitating uncensored internet contact between a small, religious community on the island and the rest of the world.”
That “small, religious community” not even mentioned by name was the Jewish community.
In August, a group of 300 rabbis from across the country called on Obama to bring Gross home.
“Alan went to Cuba on behalf of our government. His immediate release from prison in Cuba and return to the U.S. must be a priority for our nation. Indeed, we believe this is a moral imperative,” the rabbis said in a letter to the president. “Our communities are gravely concerned that Alan continues to languish in a Cuban prison nearly five years after his arrest. We ask, with all respect, that you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure a prompt end to Alan’s, and his family’s, continuing nightmare.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest issued the administration’s official comment today.
“Five years ago today Alan Gross was arrested for his efforts to help ordinary Cuban citizens have greater access to information through the Internet,” Earnest’s statement said. “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. We remain deeply concerned for Alan’s health, and reiterate our call for his release.”
“The Cuban government’s release of Alan on humanitarian grounds would remove an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba,” he added, perhaps hinting at Obama’s desire to use executive actions to unilaterally relax U.S. policy toward Cuba.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who’s expressed concern about those signs of rapprochement, stressed that “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.”
“For five years, an American citizen has been held hostage by the Castro regime simply for helping the Jewish community in Cuba access the Internet. Alan Gross should never have been imprisoned by the Castro regime,” Rubio said. “…Unilateral concessions by the U.S. government to the Castro regime will help fund more human rights violations, and keep real freedom further out of reach for the Cuban people.”
“I urge the Obama administration to step up its efforts against the Castro regime with the goal of securing Alan Gross’ unconditional release.”
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said a clear message needs to be sent to the Castros: “Let Alan Gross go! Let him go today, let him go now.”
Mikulski said her constituent and his family have been suffering for the past five years as the Cuban regime “has ignored basic human rights and has shown they are not serious about building a relationship with the United States.”
“Every day I think of and pray for the Gross family. I pray that they are reunited soon,” she said. “If Cuba wants to improve relations with the United States, they need to release Mr. Gross now.”