The Desperate Plight Of Alan Gross

The already sad and desperate plight of Alan Gross reached a new level of urgency last week.

On a visit to Alan in a Cuban prison, his wife Judy and daughter Nina were horrified to see that he had taken such a significant turn for the worse — both emotionally and physically — that he said his goodbyes to them, Rachmana litzlan.

Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the primary American agency responsible for administering foreign civilian aid, was working to expand internet and communications access for the Jewish community in Havana when he was arrested on December 3, 2009. He was accused of trying to undermine the Cuban government, through what the Cuban News Agency called a “subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the Revolution, through the use of communication systems out of the control of authorities.”

On March 12, 2011, Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison, for “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the State.”

Now, after more than 1,700 days of languishing in prison, Gross’s situation has deteriorated drastically.

“I’ve never seen Alan in such bad shape during all the years that the Cuban government has kept him in prison,” said Judy Gross, in a statement. “Our daughter, Nina, was unprepared to see how gaunt and physically frail her father has become. And his decision to say goodbye to us was wrenching.”

Gross’s suffering hasn’t been confined to the physical; his emotional well-being has taken a negative turn as well, exacerbated by the recent death of his mother, whom he was not allowed to visit during her illness.

“Alan has withdrawn, and he told me that his life in prison is not a life worth living,” said Scott Gilbert, Gross’s attorney. “He’s confined to a small cell for 24 hours a day. He’s lost most of the vision in his right eye. His hips are failing and he can barely walk. He has stopped all attempts to exercise. Alan’s emotional deterioration has been severe, and his mother’s lingering illness and painful death has only accelerated this.”

As a U.S. citizen, and one who was working for the government at the time of his arrest, Gross deserves that every conceivable effort be made by the U.S. government to bring him home immediately.

It is possible that Cuba would be willing to trade Gross’s freedom for that of the three remaining members of the “Cuban Five” who are still serving lengthy prison sentences in the United States for being Cuban spies. In fact, Gross may have merely been a pawn in the political game being waged by the government of the oppressive island nation against the United States, perhaps in an attempt to free its own spies.

At a press conference in Havana two months ago, Fernando Gonzalez, one of the Five, who served a decade and a half in prison in the U.S. before being released and deported to Cuba several months ago, said, “It’s obvious that the only thing needed is the political will on the part of the U.S. government to bring to fruition that exchange.”

As Judy Gross has said, “If we can trade five members of the Taliban to bring home one American soldier, surely we can figure out a path forward to bring home one American citizen from a Cuban prison.”

The Obama administration, however, has thus far shown no willingness to entertain the notion of such a swap.

There is no more important duty of a government than to protect its citizens from harm, at home or abroad. The U.S. government, in good conscience, must act quickly and decisively to bring home Gross, before it is, chas v’shalom, too late.

When it comes to saving lives, no stone can be left unturned, no possible avenue or agent left untried. America may seek help in the matter from countries that have a closer relationship with Cuba — including American allies, such as Canada. China, also, may be able to influence the Castros.

Other sources of hishtadlus must be explored as well. Activist Sean Penn was instrumental in bringing another American Jew, Jacob Ostreicher, home from captivity in Bolivia. Penn has been a friend to the leaders of many Latin American nations, and in 2008 was granted a seven-hour interview by Raul Castro. Penn or perhaps other left-wing activists may be helpful in the Gross case as well.

Every option must be exhausted, and not a moment can be wasted.

As a democratic government is representative of its people, we the people must show our representatives in government that this is a vital issue to us all. Each of us must contact his congressman and senator and let them know that he must do whatever it takes to free Alan Gross. The Gross family must know that acheinu bnei Yisrael are there for them during these unimaginably difficult times, and will be there for them until he is free, b’ezras Hashem.

Imagine the terrible pain that a mother and daughter must have felt to see their beloved father and husband, at the point of despair, say to them, “Goodbye.” It is time this suffering man is freed, so that we can all joyously say to him, “Welcome home.”

The time is — must be! — right now.

Please continue to daven for the health and safe release of Abba Chonah ben Chava Chana.