Family marks Alan Gross’ 2nd year in Cuban prison
Family marks Alan Gross' 2nd year in Cuban prison
By ERIKA BOLSTAD
WASHINGTON -- On the sidewalk in front of the Cuban Interests Section,
on a street that runs straight to the White House, dozens of people have
been gathering each Monday for the past month to demand the release of
an American who was imprisoned in Cuba two years ago.
Regardless of weather, the protesters carry laminated signs that say
"Free Alan Gross Now," and they sing "Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu," a Hebrew
folk song that translates to "Peace Will Come."
It's impossible to know whether the Cuban diplomats inside hear the
pleas to free the 62-year-old Gross, who on Saturday marked his second
anniversary in detention. Regardless, the protesters promise to return
every Monday at noon until peace comes for Gross and his family.
"It's directed to everybody who drives down 16th Street and thinks,
'Hmm, maybe I should find out what that's about,'" his wife, Judy Gross,
said of the weekly protests, which she attended last week for the first
time. "But clearly we want the Cubans to know we're not going to just
sit down and do nothing about this."
Judy Gross also has no intention of remaining quiet anymore, and as the
second anniversary of her husband's imprisonment neared, she sat down
for interviews with McClatchy Newspapers and other publications. It's a
marked departure from her previous approach, which was to grant few
interviews and keep a relatively low profile in hopes of securing her
Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen whom Cuba accused two years ago of plotting
to "destroy the revolution," was convicted in March of crimes against
the state for bringing telecommunications equipment into the country and
was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
"At first we were keeping things pretty quiet because that's what we
were advised to do, and not to try to ruffle the feathers of the Cubans
at all," Judy Gross said. "But that obviously hasn't worked, so we're
now trying to go more vocal. And still being nice about it."
Sometimes, she said, she wonders whether any strategy is best.
"You don't know," she said. "It's very hard to read the Cubans. You just
don't know what they want. They've never really told us what they want."
Judy Gross also is raising the volume on her criticism of the Obama
administration and the apparent unwillingness of anyone on either side
of the Florida Straits to sit down and have constructive discussions
that would secure her husband's release.
"The State Department has put in a great deal of hours on the case, I'll
say that," she said, but she added that the Obama administration "has
kept their hands off of it."
"At least publicly," she said. "I've not heard from them once."
Neither has her 89-year-old mother-in-law, Evelyn Gross, who wrote to
President Barack Obama for help. She hasn't heard back from the White
House, Judy Gross said. Her mother-in-law's greatest fear is dying
before her son is released.
"It's hard for her to even say the word Alan without crying," Judy Gross
said. "It's heart-wrenching. She wants to go to Cuba to see him. But I
don't think she could make the trip."
Last week, Evelyn Gross released a video directed at Cuban President
Raul Castro, asking the dictator to release her son on humanitarian grounds.
"I have lung cancer in both lungs," she said, "and it stands to reason
I'm not going to be here for any length of time. So I want to see my
son. I want to see him to come home, so he can be with us. He has two
wonderful children and a wonderful wife, and they need him desperately."
Judy Gross, who visited her husband for the third time in November, said
her most recent trip was a difficult one emotionally.
While imprisoned in a Cuban military hospital, in a small cell with two
other people, Gross learned that one of his daughters had been diagnosed
with breast cancer and his mother with lung cancer. Because of the loss
of his income, his wife had to sell their Maryland home and move into
what she described as "an apartment for one" in Washington.
The White House said in March that Alan Gross' sentence "compounds the
injustice suffered by a man helping to increase the free flow of
information to, from and among the Cuban people."
Roberta Jacobson, the top official at the State Department in charge of
U.S.-Cuba relations, told a Senate panel recently that the Obama
administration has always taken its cue from the Gross family, but she
added that "we do think that it is time to speak out very loudly."
"Mr. Gross should be home with his family," said Jacobson, who was in
front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for her confirmation
hearing as the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere
affairs. "There are illnesses in his family. His own health has
deteriorated while held by the Cubans, and he deserves to be home
Some Cuban-American lawmakers, including Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.,
and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have argued that it's time for the U.S. to
rethink policies that allow Americans to visit more - and to send more
money to family members on the island nation.
Gross is effectively a hostage, Menendez told Jacobson last month in
front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which he's a member.
And the administration's policy allows Gross to continue to be used as a
pawn in the U.S. relationship with Cuba, Menendez said.
"I don't understand how you reward a regime for imprisoning an American
citizen," he said. "I don't get it. And I hope someone at the State
Department is going to wake up and say, 'You know what, you don't get
anything certainly until you release that American.'"
Gross was arrested and jailed in Havana after he delivered at least one
satellite telephone and other communications equipment as part of a U.S.
Agency for International Development effort to assist Jewish and other
nongovernment groups in Cuba. At the time, he was working for the
Maryland-based government contractor Development Alternatives Inc.
Cuban television reports alleged that the satellite phones for Internet
connections were part of Washington's decades-long effort to overthrow
the communist government in Havana.
Jewish leaders in Cuba have visited Gross twice: once for Passover last
spring and in September on the eve of Rosh Hashana. Consular officials
from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana visit once a month, the State
Recently, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson visited Cuba in an
unsuccessful bid to secure Gross' release. U.S. officials denied reports
that Richardson offered concessions to the Cubans in exchange.
The chairwoman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs
Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., has called on the Obama
administration to end its conversations with the Castro regime, suspend
adding charter flights to Cuba from more U.S. airports and implement the
full range of sanctions at its disposal.
Ros-Lehtinen won't say what sorts of conversations she has had with the
Gross family or government officials.
"I don't wish to be an impediment in any discussions that are taking
place between governments about his release," she said. "We hope that
every department is doing all that they can to secure his release,
because it's totally unjustified."
The Cubans need a graceful way to let her husband go, Judy Gross said,
and the politics of U.S.-Cuba relations haven't made that easy.
"There's some very powerful vocal people in the Congress who are not
favorable to sitting down and negotiating anything with the Cubans," she
said. "If you don't negotiate, you don't get anything."