Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wife of imprisoned U.S. contractor in Cuba says she has renewed hope of his release

Posted on Tuesday, 12.18.12

Wife of imprisoned U.S. contractor in Cuba says she has renewed hope of
his release

Judy Gross, whose husband has been detained in Cuba for three years,
said the United States should negotiate with Cuba to free him.
By Juan O. Tamayo

The wife of Alan Gross, the U.S. government subcontractor jailed in
Havana for the past three years, says she hopes that the reelection of
President Barack Obama will open the door to a White House effort to
free her husband.

"To be honest, I am losing some hope. After three years, it's only
natural," said Judy Gross. "But I guess I have some renewed hope, now
that the elections are over, that the White House can get involved in
getting Alan out of Cuba.

Gross' detention in Havana since Dec. 3, 2009 has become the key
roadblock in Obama administration hopes of improving relations with
Havana on issues such as migration, drug smuggling and possible maritime
oil spills.

But to Judy Gross her husband is a man unfairly imprisoned who should be
freed as soon as possible to rejoining his family in Potomac, Md., and
comfort his 90-year-old mother Evelyn, due to start a new round of
chemotherapy for cancer soon.

"Alan's mother says she doesn't care about her health, that all she
cares about is seeing Alan again," Judy Gross said in a telephone
interview with El Nuevo Herald. "And I just want him home as soon as

Alan Gross, 63, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for delivering
satellite telephones to Cuban Jews, paid for by the U.S. Agency for
International Development under a pro-democracy program outlawed by
Havana as part of a bid to topple the communist system.

The phones allow access to the Internet and people abroad but bypass the
government's closely monitored telephone monopoly. Cuba says delivering
them amounted to acts against its "independence or territorial integrity."

Judy Gross said her husband first went to the island with a group of
other Jews to learn about the tiny Jewish community and deliver
medicines, food and other humanitarian assistance.

"He just fell in love with the community because he's a humanitarian and
a real people person," she recalled. "So he wanted to go back and help
them. They were so isolated, they even needed food."

Gross said her husband now suffers from chronic pains and has a lump on
his shoulder that Havana authorities insist is not malignant, even
though a U.S. physician who has read some of the medical reports says
they do not rule out a cancer.

"We don't understand why Cuba doesn't allow in a third-party medical
person for an independent check, and that makes us suspicious that maybe
there is something wrong that they are hiding," she added.

During his three years detained in a Navy hospital, the six-foot Alan
Gross dropped from almost 250 pounds to about 150 pounds, his wife said,
"and that's also frightening, because the Cubans say they give him three
meals a day and I know he's eating."

"He now weighs less than I do," she joked, adding that the couple speak
by telephone about once a week.

Judy Gross conceded that in the first months of her husband's detention
she did not publicly criticize the Cuban government, hoping to avoid
angering Havana and thereby perhaps prolonging Alan's time in prison.

But she has been steadily turning up the volume on her demands, now
often picketing outside the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington and
this fall hiring human rights lawyer Jared Genser to push Alan's cause
on the international stage.

Today, she says she first blames "the Cuban government for arresting him
on trumped up charges, so he could be a pawn … His arrest was ridiculous
and his sentence absolutely uncalled for. They should have just thrown
him out of the country."

She also blames the USAID private contractor that hired Alan Gross to
deliver the satellite phones, Development Associates Inc., (DAI) for
failing to make him fully aware of the dangers he ran by going to Cuba
on behalf of the U.S. government.

And she blames USAID for allowing him to go to Cuba on a mission that
was clearly dangerous. She has filed lawsuits against DAI and the U.S.
government for $60 million.

"USAID knew that it was not safe," Judy Gross said. "Alan wanted to go
to help the people there. But he would not have gone had he known it was
this dangerous."

Some of Alan Gross's reports to his supervisors include references to
the risks he was running in Cuba.

Havana has made several thinly veiled offers to free Gross in exchange
for five Cuban spies convicted in a Miami trial in 1998. The Obama
administration has just as often rejected the swap offers, saying the
two cases are not at all similar.

One of the five is serving two life sentences on murder-conspiracy
charges for helping Cuban warplanes shoot down two civilian airplanes in
1996, killing all four Miami men aboard. Three others are still in
prison and the fifth completed his 13-year prison term last year and is
now serving a three- year parole somewhere in the United States.

Asked if she favors a swap, Judy Gross said she knows that the situation
with the Cuban spies is "complicated " but doesn't know much about what
the Cuban spies are alleged to have done or the exact legal charges
against them.

"I would favor anything that would get Alan home," she said, but added
that it is the U.S. government's duty to open negotiations with Cuba for
his release.

"To just say no, no negotiations, to me that's irresponsible. You sit
down and you negotiate," she insisted. "To say no, that makes us feel,
to be honest, that the U.S. government does not care that he's in a
prison in Cuba."

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