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Alan Gross from Md. marks fifth year in Cuban prison

Alan Gross has tried a hunger strike and other tactics to bring attention to his cause. He remains in a Cuban prison.
Alan Gross Vigil

MIAMI (USA TODAY) -- American contractor Alan Gross has tried a hunger strike to bring attention to his cause. He's tried telling people he's lost five teeth, 100 pounds and is losing sight in one eye. He's even stopped accepting visits from his wife and daughters.

Despite those efforts, Gross remains in a Cuban prison today, five years after Cuban authorities arrested him in Havana for distributing communications equipment to members of the island's small Jewish community.


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Gross was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, so he's been urging the Obama administration to do whatever it can to secure his release.

On Wednesday, his wife, Judy Gross, made one more plea on the fifth anniversary of his capture. "Enough is enough," she said in a statement. "My husband has paid a terrible price for serving his country and community. Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end. After five years of literally wasting away, Alan is done. It is time for President Obama to bring Alan back to the United States now; otherwise it will be too late."

(see other statements on the anniversary of Alan Gross' capture below)

The State Department has insisted that it will not entertain the idea of a prisoner swap, an arrangement that Cuban authorities have floated in the past.

The Cuban government has insisted that American authorities wrongfully imprisoned five of its citizens, known as "The Cuban Five." The men were convicted in U.S. federal court on espionage charges and have become national heroes in Cuba, where their images are painted on billboards and walls throughout the island. Two of the men have completed their prison terms and returned to Cuba. The other three remain in U.S. prisons, where one faces a life term.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf lamented the "difficult conditions" Gross is living under but did not elaborate on any efforts to win his freedom.

"It is gravely disappointing, especially in light of its professed goal of providing Cubans with internet access, that the Cuban government has not allowed Mr. Gross to return to his family, where he belongs," Harf said in a statement. "We reiterate our call on the Cuban government, echoing foreign leaders and even Cuba's allies, to release Alan Gross immediately."

Gross was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009 while on a USAID contract to improve communication on the island, where Internet use is heavily restricted by the Communist government. He was bringing satellite phones and computer equipment to the Jewish community on the island and was arrested, charged with "destabilizing" and "subverting" the government and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In the years since, he has been visited by relatives, his attorney and a stream of U.S. government officials, most recently in November by Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Tom Udall, D-N.M. But the senators, like others before them, said they heard no indication from Cuban officials that there were any plans to release Gross.

His case was further inflamed when the Associated Press uncovered this year a separate USAID program known as the "Cuban Twitter." The program, which operated from 2009 to 2012, was designed to use social media to help a new generation of dissidents on the island, and involved setting up a front company, routing money through the Cayman Islands and creating elaborate cover stories for people working in the program.

With seemingly no progress on his case, Gross has grown more desperate. He started a hunger strike in April to protest his imprisonment, but stopped after nine days when his 91-year-old mother asked him to out of fear for his already-diminished health. In May, when Gross turned 65, he vowed that it would be the last birthday he spends in a Cuban jail "one way or the other," according to his lawyer, Scott Gilbert.

By August, when his wife and youngest daughter went to visit, Gross said could not take life in prison any longer. He told them goodbye and asked them not to come see him again. They haven't seen him since.


On Wednesday, Congressman John Delaney of Maryland released the following statement:

"Alan Gross's imprisonment is unjust, unfair and indecent. Every hour that he is behind bars is a violation of justice, five years is unimaginable. The Cuban government should do the right thing and release Alan immediately. It is vitally important that we remember all Americans being held in captivity and work for their release. Alan's wrongful incarceration is another front in our nation's long-standing commitment to fight for religious freedom and liberty and I urge our leaders to continue to do everything they can to bring Alan home to his family."

Congressman Chris Van Hollen issued the following statement:

"Five years ago today, Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba for trying to help the country's small Jewish community establish an Intranet and improve its access to the Internet on behalf of USAID. And for five years, Alan and his family have paid an enormous personal price. We are doing everything we can to fight to secure his release. I've personally urged President Obama to make Alan's release from Cuban prison a top priority. I also raised the issue directly with Cuban President Castro when I visited Alan last year. Every day that he sits in prison in Havana is another day of injustice for Alan Gross and another day that Cuba is missing an important opportunity to begin to reshape its relations with the United States."

Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland released this statement:

"I have a message for Mr. Castro down in Cuba, let Alan Gross go! Let him go today, let him go now. For five years, he and his family have suffered. The Cuban government has ignored basic human rights and has shown they are not serious about building a relationship with the United States. Every day I think of and pray for the Gross family. I pray that they are reunited soon. If Cuba wants to improve relations with the United States, they need to release Mr. Gross now."