WASHINGTON – Four years after he was imprisoned in Cuba for illegally bringing communications equipment into the country, former U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross says his health is declining, his career is destroyed and his heart is broken “from acute homesickness, loneliness and disappointment in my government,” according to a letter his family released Tuesday.
Calling the former Maryland resident a forgotten casualty of Cold War-era animosities between Cuba and the United States, a group of Gross’ supporters rallied Tuesday near the White House, marking the anniversary of his fourth year in a Havana jail and calling on President Obama to facilitate his release.
With the White House behind her, Gross’ wife, Judy, fought back tears while describing her husband’s ordeal to a group of nearly 100 people gathered in Lafayette Park. “Alan has been fading away in a tiny prison cell in Havana, Cuba,” she said. “He is in his cell 23 hours a day. He is in chronic pain and has lost 100 pounds. But by far the worst is that he is losing his spirit.”
The U.S. has repeatedly called for Gross’ freedom, but the requests have been largely ignored by Cuba. In the letter delivered Tuesday to the White House, Alan Gross called for Obama’s “personal involvement.”
Gross, 64, went to Cuba five times with a tourist visa as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development program to promote democracy. He was arrested Dec. 3, 2009, and eventually convicted of providing the small Cuban Jewish community with unauthorized satellite phones and Internet equipment. Accused by Cuban authorities of spying for the U.S., Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
“The idea that he committed acts of espionage against Cuba would be laughable if the results of this ridiculous notion were not so tragic,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “Alan is a pawn, and now a victim, in a dysfunctional relationship between the United States and Cuba.”
Cuba in the past offered to release Gross in exchange for the release of five Cuban spies who were imprisoned in the U.S.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry said in April that the U.S. had refused such a trade “because there is no equivalency.”
“Alan Gross is wrongly imprisoned,” Kerry said before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in April. “We are trying to work this out on a humanitarian basis. We are not going to trade as if it is a spy for a spy, which they are trying to allege.”
One of the five prisoners, René González, was released in 2011 and returned to Cuba this year.
Gross’ incarceration is “an impediment to more constructive relations” between the U.S. and Cuba, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. He said Obama had personally engaged foreign leaders about advocating for Gross’ release.