It is time for the U.S. and Cuban governments to do everything in their power to free Alan Gross from a jail in Havana, where he has been languishing for more than three years.
The case may be more complicated than we’ve been led to believe but the resolution shouldn’t be.
Gross, 63, a Jewish international development specialist from Potomac, Md., is serving a 15-year prison sentence for delivering sophisticated communications equipment to Cuban Jews, reportedly so they could access the Internet outside the government’s tight controls. The equipment was paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of a government program aimed at promoting democracy in the communist country.
Cuba has banned all participation in the program on the grounds that it is intended to topple the regime. The authorities charged Gross with a crime against the state, acting against the nation’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s imprisonment watchdog called on Cuba to release Gross. The Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention did not address the specific charges but said that Cuba's lack of an independent judiciary, the imprecise nature of the alleged crime and the failure to grant bail rendered his sentence “arbitrary.”
Gross’ wife, Judith, cited the opinion in her latest appeal to Cuban President Raul Castro to release her husband. According to his wife, who reportedly has filed a $60 million suit against USAID and the company he worked for, Gross apparently undertook the mission without proper briefings on the dangers.
Whatever he did, he clearly was not a spy and the Cuban government surely knows this.
Still, his case appears mired in Cold War politics, with Cuba signaling it might be willing to release Gross in exchange for the so-called “Cuban Five,” a group of intelligence agents imprisoned in the United States for conspiracy to commit espionage.
Beneath the politics, Gross is reportedly in poor health. He has lost 100 pounds since his arrest in December 2009 and is in need of medical attention. His wife has repeatedly entreated the Cuban authorities to allow Gross to visit his ailing mother, who is 90 and has cancer, as well as his family. One of Gross’ daughters is a cancer survivor and the other recently survived a car accident.
The family, meanwhile, has started an online petition, found on the website bringalanhome.org, calling on the Cuban and American governments to do everything possible to secure his release.
On humanitarian grounds alone, it is time to extricate this case from the complicated waters of U.S.-Cuban politics; it is time to bring Alan Gross home.