The family of a U.S. foreign aid specialist who has been imprisoned in Cuba for five years said Wednesday that he is “done” and that President Obama must act to secure his release.
The government contractor, Alan Gross, has lost more than 100 pounds and part of his eyesight during his captivity, and suffers from chronic pain, said his wife, Judy.
“Enough is enough. My husband has paid a terrible price for serving his country and community,” she said in a statement marking the five-year anniversary of his imprisonment. “Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end.
"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 was arrested on his fifth trip to Cuba in 2009. He was charged with "destabilizing" and "subverting" the government, and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011.
He was in the country as a subcontractor for USAID, the federal government’s foreign aid agency, where he was tasked with distributing communications technology, including cellphones and computers, to the nation's Jewish population. Access to the Internet and other communication technologies is strictly controlled in the island nation.
The Obama administration called his detention "an impediment” to dialogue between the two countries.
“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.
The State Department also called the situation “gravely disappointing” and called for Gross’ release.
Supporters of Gross contend that he was unaware that bringing American government-sponsored equipment into the country could be considered a crime, and that, as a contractor on a federally funded project, he believed he would be protected from charges. Gross was traveling on a tourist visa when he was taken into custody.
Negotiations over his release have largely stalled since Cuban officials hinted that he could be released in exchange for the “Cuban Five,” a group of Cuban intelligence officers arrested in the United States in the 1990s. U.S. officials have refused to consider such a deal in the past.
In July, he said goodbye to family members and will not visit with them again while in prison, according to his wife. He has also refused other visitors, including diplomats representing the United States in Cuba, she said.
Experts say that negotiations over Gross’ return are unlikely as long as Fidel Castro remains a force in the island’s politics.
“I don’t think anything will change with Mr. Gross until Fidel Castro is dead and buried because this is his policy,” said Sebastian Arcos, a human rights observer at Florida International University in Miami.
Castro, who handed the presidency to his brother Raul in 2006 but still retains influence, is using Gross as a bargaining chip to bring home the imprisoned agents, whom he considers heroes, Arcos said.
“He detained Gross not because he was scared of what Gross was doing,” Arcos said. “He did it because he needed a hostage.”