Alan Gross, the U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor jailed by Cuba for almost five years, is refusing to see U.S. government officials, and his wife says he’s lost the will to live.
“He sees no use in them coming anymore,” Judy Gross said yesterday in an interview. “They were able to bring him packages that I sent to him, but other than that it hasn’t improved or gotten him closer to getting home.”
“He’s just hopeless and needless to say, very, very disappointed in the United States government,” she said.
Gross, 65, was working to expand Internet access for Havana’s Jewish community when Cuban officials arrested him. He was accused of undermining the Cuban state and in December 2009 was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
In a mid-July visit, when Judy Gross and their 27-year-old daughter came to see him, he told them he didn’t want them to come again, and that he no longer needed the packages sent to him via the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Gross has refused to meet the new head of that office or other officials.
“He feels they should do whatever it takes to get him home,” she said. “ He was there on a U.S. project, but he feels like they’re doing nothing, he hasn’t seen any evidence.”
Asked about Gross yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the U.S. “keeps his case at the forefront of discussions with the Cuban government, made clear the importance the United States places on his welfare.”
“We engage also with a range of our foreign counterparts at the highest levels and urge them to advocate for his release,” Psaki said. “We urgently reiterate our call to the Cuban government to release him immediately.”
Judy Gross said, “The answer is always, ‘We’re doing as much as we can, and it’s at the top of our list.’ I’m not sure why they won’t tell me what they’re doing. It makes me suspect that perhaps they’re not doing as much as we would hope.”
She cited the release of Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier taken hostage for five years in Afghanistan and freed in a May prisoner exchange for five Taliban prisoners. “That had to be really complicated,” Judy Gross said. “If they could do that with five Taliban, with Afghanistan who we really have problems with,” she asked why the U.S. can’t do more for her husband.
Groups have pushed the Obama administration to exchange Gross for three activists from the ‘Cuban Five,’ spies who were jailed in 1998 for infiltrating groups in Miami that had been planning terrorist actions against the Cuban government. Two have been released on parole, and Cuba has demanded the release of the remaining three. Cuban-American U.S. lawmakers oppose any negotiations with Cuba.
“If President Obama wanted to, he could have Alan home tomorrow,” Judy Gross said. “Maybe it’s not a priority with them, maybe they’re worried about lawmakers who really have a problem with Cuba,” she said.
Her husband had been an early believer in President Barack Obama, she said. During Obama’s first presidential campaign, Gross took five weeks off to work on his campaign in a part of Virginia that voted Democratic for the first time. “That’s irony,” she said.
Gross’s lawyer, Scott Gilbert, said yesterday that his client is confined to a small cell 24 hours a day. “He’s lost most of the vision in his right eye,” Gilbert said in a statement. “His hips are failing and he can barely walk. He has stopped all attempts to exercise. Alan’s emotional deterioration has been severe,” Gilbert said.
“Alan has had enough of life in a Cuban prison,” said family spokeswoman Jill Zuckman, a managing director of SKDKnickerbocker, a strategic-communications firm in Washington. “Alan just wants this whole ordeal to be over, even if it means taking his own life.”