As the fifth anniversary of the arrest and imprisonment of U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor Alan Gross in Cuba approaches, he has received recent visits from his lawyer and two senators but refuses to see U.S. diplomats in Havana.
It’s a reflection of his frustration with the U.S. government and its efforts to win his freedom. Since his arrest on Dec. 3, 2009, for smuggling satellite communications equipment to Cuba as part of USAID’s pro-democracy programs, Gross has grown increasingly despondent, and his wife, Judy, has said she worries that he’ll “do something drastic” if he isn’t released soon.
“President Obama needs to bring Alan home now,” said Scott Gilbert, Gross’s lawyer.
A State Department spokesperson said the U.S. is trying to do that: “We continue to use every possible diplomatic channel to press for Mr. Gross’ release, repeatedly, both publicly and privately. We have also enlisted governments around the world and prominent figures to press for Mr. Gross’ release.”
Just before he turned 65 on May 2, Gross — who is serving his 15-year sentence at the Carlos J. Finlay Military Hospital in Havana — announced “it will be my last birthday here.” When his wife visited in June, he said his goodbyes.
“We must remember that Alan was in Cuba serving the U.S. government (USAID is part of the State Department),” said Gilbert, a Washington lawyer who visited Gross in Havana last week. “Alan is about to give up, and we are running out of time.”
When Peter Kornbluh, a National Security Archive analyst, visited Gross in prison last December, he found that the development specialist’s physical condition seemed improved from a four-hour visit he had with him in November 2012, but that his mental state had deteriorated.
Gross had gained back 23 of the 110 pounds he had lost and showed the muscles he was developing with daily exercises. When Kornbluh asked him if he was bulking up in preparation for a hunger strike, Gross instead indicated a door separating their meeting room from the rest of the prison. “Flimsy,” he noted.
Kornbluh said that when he mentioned there were large, well-armed guards on the other side, Gross responded: “I’m not afraid of anyone… I’m a ticking time bomb…”
Gross did, in fact, stage a nine-day hunger strike in April. He grew even more depressed after his, 92-year-old Evelyn Gross, died of cancer in June. The Cuban government refused furlough requests from Gross during her illness and to attend her funeral.
The wedge between Gross’s family and the U.S. government has grown.
In a $60 million lawsuit filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, the Grosses blamed the U.S. government and Development Alternatives Inc., the Maryland-based international development firm that subcontracted the USAID project to Gross, for failing to adequately train and prepare him for the risky situation he would face in Cuba.
A judge dismissed the negligence case, saying the U.S. government is immune from any claim arising in a foreign country, and last month the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the dismissal. DAI settled with the Gross family for an undisclosed sum.
But Gilbert said the Grosses’ legal fight isn’t over. He intends to petition the Supreme Court for review of the case.