Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cuba: Alan Gross, 64, Imprisoned USAID Contractor Serving 15 Years, Pleads for President Obama's Help

According to Reuters, and as a followup to my numerous postings spanning 09/16/2011 through December 4, 2013, former USAID (US Agency for International Development) contractor Alan Gross, 64, who has been serving a 15-year prison term in a Havana prison for crimes he violated while working in Havana as a subcontractor for USAID since December 3, 2009, on Tuesday (December 3), appealed to President Barack Obama as to why Gross has been abandoned by the Obama Administration?

"Why am I still here? With the utmost respect, Mr. President, I fear that my government--the very government I was serving when I began this nightmare--has abandoned me," Alan Gross wrote in a letter to Obama, as the American completed his four year in a Cuban prison.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama had "personally engaged foreign leaders and other international figures to use their influence with Cuba" to have Gross freed, adding that the administration renewed its call for his release.

Gross' letter was read aloud by his wife, Judy, at a vigil in Lafayette Square across from the White House on Tuesday to mark his fourth anniversary in jail. "It is clear to me, Mr. President, that only with your personal involvement can my release be secured," Gross wrote.

COMMENT: Unfortunately, Alan Gross, of Potomac, Maryland, was arrested in Havana on December 3, 2009, for his work on a semi-covert US program promoting political change on the island. Cuba has said it considered the work to be subversive.

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

According to Mrs. Gross, Cuba had agreed to sit down with US government officials, without conditions, to discuss possible terms leading to her husband's release and return home. Yet, the US State Department has rejected any negotiated settlement of the case out of hand.

In other cases of Americans jailed abroad, including North Korea, the US has appointed a special envoy to negotiate, Judy Gross said. That has not happened in Alan Gross' case, she said, nor has Obama responded to repeated letters from the family requesting a meeting.

Last month, President Obama was sent a letter by a bipartisan group of 66 senators, led by Patrick Leahy, a senior Democrat, that urged the president "to act expeditiously to take whatever steps are in the national interest to obtain his [Gross'] release."

A separate letter signed by 14 senators, including two of Cuban descent, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Marco Rubio of Florida, took a tougher line rejecting any negotiations, calling on Obama to work toward securing Gross's unconditional release.

Tuesday's vigil was attended by 75 Jewish leaders politicians, family and friends.

Gross has lost more than 100 pounds in jail, suffers from chronic arthritis, and his mental health is deteriorating, according to his family. "He's gone from a happy go-lucky, gregarious person, to very down and depressed," said his wife.

The US State Department also marked the anniversary by calling for the immediate release of Gross saying his continued captivity on the communist-ruled island was "gravely disappointing."

It remains unclear what steps the Obama administration can take to obtain Gross's release. Cuba has hinted it would release him in return for four Cubans jailed on espionage charges in the United States, but Washington has flatly ruled that out. 

Why, considering that prisoner exchanges have been a acknowledged political strategy for over 150 years?

Other options might include an apology issued by the Obama Administration to Cuba for sponsoring Gross' activities in violation of Cuban law, or some relaxation of US economic restrictions on trade between the two countries such as removal of Cuba from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.