Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Held in Cuba, American Alan Gross launches hunger strike

    Posted on Tuesday, 04.08.14

    Held in Cuba, American Alan Gross launches hunger strike

    U.S. government subcontractor Alan P. Gross, serving a 15-year prison
    sentence in Havana, went on a hunger strike after learning that
    Washington had financed a semi-clandestine Twitter-like system for
    Cubans, his U.S. lawyer said Tuesday.

    Attorney Scott Gilbert said Gross told him in a phone conversation
    Tuesday afternoon that he had not eaten since Thursday but is drinking
    water and has lost about 10 pounds, on top of the 100 pounds he lost
    since his arrest in late 2009.

    “When I asked him how long he planned to continue the hunger strike,”
    said Gilbert, “he said, ‘as long as it takes.’ ”

    Gross said the “final straw” that prompted his hunger strike came when
    he learned on Thursday that the U.S. Agency for International
    Development (USAID) had launched the controversial Twitter-like platform
    after his arrest, Gilbert said.

    Gilbert had criticized USAID earlier Tuesday for launching the
    semi-secret Zunzuneo platform in 2010, saying that it represented an
    additional risk for the 64-year-old USAID subcontractor from Potomac,
    Md. The program was first disclosed by The Associated Press.

    The Gross family was told “that there were no further covert missions in
    Cuba. We’ve been assured that nothing like this was going on. Either we
    were lied to or the people who were speaking to us were being deceived,”
    he told El Nuevo Herald.

    USAID and the White House have said that the Zunzuneo program was not
    “covert,” but required discretion because Cuba has outlawed cooperation
    with all USAID programs as “subversive.” USAID says the programs only
    promote democracy and civil society.

    Gross’ continued detention in Havana has become one of the key
    roadblocks to the Obama administration’s efforts to improve relations
    with the communist-ruled island.

    A statement issued early Tuesday by Gross family spokesperson Jill
    Zuckman quoted Gross as announcing the hunger strike but making no
    mention of the Zunzuneo program.

    “I began a fast on April 3 in protest of the treatment to which I am
    subjected by the governments of Cuba and the United States,” he was
    quoted as saying. “I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions, and
    inaction by both governments, not only regarding their shared
    responsibility for my arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack
    of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal.”

    That statement also quoted Gross’ wife, Judy Gross, as saying that she
    is “worried sick about Alan’s health, and I don’t think he can survive
    much more of this.”

    Zuckman told El Nuevo Herald that Gross had declared his hunger strike
    because “he has lost hope” that Washington and Havana will be able to
    negotiate his freedom anytime soon.

    “On the fourth anniversary of his arrest in December, Alan felt
    gratified by the support he was receiving and felt there was some hope
    that the United States and Cuba would find a path forward so that he
    could go home,” Zuckman said.

    “Four months later he has lost hope and feels he has no other way of
    getting people to listen to him and to resolve his situation,” she
    added. Zunzuneo “had something to do with it [the hunger strike], but
    the bigger issue is Alan is losing hope.”

    Gross was arrested Dec. 3, 2009, and accused of delivering sophisticated
    communications equipment financed by USAID to Cuban Jews so they could
    bypass Cuban government controls on access to the Internet.

    Havana has offered to free Gross in exchange for three Cuban spies
    serving long sentences in U.S. prisons for conspiracy to spy on U.S.
    military and exile targets. Two others completed their sentences and
    returned to Havana.

    Obama administration officials have repeatedly and flatly said there
    will be no swap, especially because Gross is not a spy and one of the
    jailed Cubans is serving a life sentence for his role in Cuba’s killing
    of four Brothers to the Rescue pilots in 1996.

    Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American
    States, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday that he believes the hunger
    strike is a bad idea for a man in ill health like Gross, but hopes that
    it will help to get him out of Cuba.

    “If it’s possible to open some kind of negotiations, it would not only
    be good for the people involved. It would also be good for a better
    climate in U.S.-Cuba relations, which are so important,” Insulza said
    after speaking at the Palm Beach Strategic Forum.

    USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, meanwhile, testified at a Senate hearing
    Tuesday that the agency was aware that Gross ran the risk of getting
    arrested in Cuba because the island’s communist government had outlawed
    the pro-democracy programs

    But “the detention of Gross is wrong, and the responsibility rests with
    the Cuban authorities,” Shah told the hearing, which also touched on the
    controversy surrounding the Zunzuneo program.

    Source: Held in Cuba, American Alan Gross launches hunger strike – Cuba
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