WASHINGTON (AP) - An American imprisoned in Cuba for more than four years says he's on a hunger strike.
Alan Gross released a statement through his lawyer Tuesday saying he began fasting to protest his treatment by the governments of Cuba and the United States.
Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2009 while working quietly in the Communist-run country to set up Internet access for the island's small Jewish community. At the time, Gross was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. government's U.S. Agency for International Development. Cuba considers USAID's programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Gross wrote that he began fasting Tuesday "to object to mistruths, deceptions, and inaction by both governments."
USAID Contractor Alan Gross Begins Hunger Strike
From Havana Prison Calls for Resolution of "Shameful Ordeal"
Washington, D.C. - Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor imprisoned in Cuba for the last four years and four months, launched a hunger strike last week protesting the inhumane treatment to which he has been subjected, calling on both countries to "resolve this shameful ordeal" so he can return home.
Said Gross: "I began a fast on April 3rd in protest of the treatment to which I am subjected by the governments of Cuba and the United States. 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. Once again, I am calling on President Obama to get personally involved in ending this stand-off so that I can return home to my wife and daughters."
Last week, the Associated Press revealed that USAID created a "Cuban Twitter" program called ZunZuneo shortly after Gross was arrested in Havana. During an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds USAID, called the program "dumb" and said that covert operations should not be conducted through USAID. USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah will testify today before Leahy's subcommittee.
Scott Gilbert, the lead attorney representing Gross, said that USAID's actions with ZunZuneo put Gross's life in greater jeopardy.
"Once Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety even further by running a covert operation in Cuba," said Gilbert. "USAID has made one absurdly bad decision after another. Running this program is contrary to everything we have been told by high-level representatives of the Obama Administration about USAID's activities in Cuba."
Since Gross, 64, was arrested and imprisoned, he has lost more than 110 pounds. He is confined to a small cell with two other prisoners for 23 hours a day, and the lights remain on 24 hours a day. He is in failing health. He faces another 11 years in prison.
Gross was arrested during his fifth trip to Cuba on behalf of USAID. He was sent there to help the Jewish community in Havana gain access to the Internet, which the Cuban government declared unlawful.
Gross's wife, Judy, said she fears that her husband will not be able to endure his confinement much longer. "I've been begging our government for more than four years to bring Alan home," said Judy Gross. "I'm worried sick about Alan's health, and I don't think he can survive much more of this."