Former USAID Contractor Imprisoned in Cuba Appeals to Obama

Image: Former USAID Contractor Imprisoned in Cuba Appeals to Obama Alan Gross

Tuesday, 03 Dec 2013 03:11 AM

By Cathy Burke

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A former U.S. government contractor imprisoned in Cuba for four years says he fears his country has “abandoned” him and is appealing to President Barack Obama to personally intervene in his case, the Washington Post reported Monday.

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In a letter to the president, sent via the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, Alan Gross, 64, describes his isolation from the world, adding that his daughter and mother have been stricken by cancer, his wife has had to sell the family home in Maryland, and “my business and career have been destroyed.”

Indirectly critical of what the family believes are lackluster efforts to secure his release, Gross notes the Obama administration and its predecessors “have taken extraordinary steps to obtain the release of other U.S. citizens imprisoned abroad.”
But unlike those cases, Obama has sent no special emissaries nor agreed to negotiate over him, The Post noted.

"Our view is that unless President Obama becomes personally involved in this matter, Alan Gross will die in jail," lawyer Scott Gilbert told Reuters.

The letter, a copy of which was provided to The Post, is to be delivered to the White House Tuesday — the anniversary of Gross’s 2009 arrest in Havana, and is part of a new strategy by his family to direct pressure at Obama, including at a demonstration Tuesday outside the White House led by his Gross’s wife, Judy.

The vigil will be led by Jewish Council leaders and was to include the broadcast of a video recording from Gross, who has personally written to the president seeking his intervention in the case, Gilbert said.

Gilbert said Cuba had agreed to sit down with U.S. government officials, without any pre-conditions, to discuss possible terms leading to Gross' release and return home.
But the State Department has rejected any negotiated settlement of the Gross case out of hand.

"It's a great puzzlement to me why no decisive action has been taken on Alan Gross, particularly when Alan is imprisoned in Cuba solely because of his work on a U.S. government project," Gilbert said.

Gross said he was in Cuba to set up communications equipment to give unrestricted Internet access to Jewish groups. A judge said that activity was a crime against the Cuban state and sentenced Gross to 15 years behind bars.

The Gross case has often been described as an obstacle to any serious improvement in U.S. relations with Cuba after more than 50 years of hostility.

But Gross’s disenchantment with the administration over his treatment is shared by a growing number of U.S. lawmakers, who see him as one of the last victims of the Cold War and the decades-long freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations that has persisted despite Obama’s early pledges to work toward a thaw, The Post reported.

In a Nov. 21 letter to Obama last month, a bipartisan group of 66 senators, spearheaded by Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., called Gross’s case “a matter of grave urgency” and urged Obama to “act expeditiously to take whatever steps are in the national interest to obtain his release," The Post reported.
 
The senators told Obama that they “stand ready to support your administration in pursuit of this worthy goal.”

And in another letter Nov. 15
, a separate group of 14 lawmakers led by Cuban American Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urged Obama to continue his policy of demanding Gross’s “immediate and unconditional release,” The Post reported.

In a statement Monday, Leahy countered “instead of simply demanding Mr. Gross’ unconditional release — which has achieved nothing in four years, and which his family regards as a death sentence — they should not shrink from the obligation to negotiate for his freedom.”

Meanwhile, the State Department Monday pressed for the contractor's release with its own statement, saying his continued captivity on the communist-ruled island was "gravely disappointing."

"Tomorrow, development worker Alan Gross will begin a fifth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba," the department said. "It is gravely disappointing, especially in light of [Cuba's] 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.
 
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"Mr. Gross is a 64-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing aid to under-served communities in more than 50 countries," the statement added.
 
"We reiterate our call on the Cuban government, echoing foreign leaders and even Cuba's allies, to release Alan Gross immediately and unconditionally."

Reuters contributed to this story

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