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Gross Injustice

Binyamin Rose

For the last five years, Judith Gross has been demanding her husband’s release from prison in one of the world’s last Communist holdouts. Alan Gross was arrested while on a US-sponsored technology assignment in Cuba, but although his health and spirits are failing, Mrs. Gross has had little luck fighting the high-stakes game of political chess that’s keeping him behind bars. In an exclusive interview, she shares how even the White House won’t say why Alan can’t come home.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

AlanGross, an international aid worker and Maryland resident, took five trips to Cuba in 2009 on behalf of a State Department contractor. He was sent to bring 21st-century communications equipment to the island nation, which for more than half a century has been stuck in a time warp since a Communist takeover. Gross’s first three visits came off without a hitch. On his fourth visit, he felt an inkling that something had gone awry. His feelings proved to be prescient. It was indeed his fifth visit — exactly five years ago, in the first week of December 2009 — from which the 65-year old has yet to return. Besides the deprivationAlan is suffering from being jailed in a squalid 12-foot-square cell with two other prisoners, it isAlan’s wife,Judith, who suffers from his absence, living alone in a modest Washington DC apartment. In a wide-ranging interview on my recent trip to the US,Mrs.Gross openly shared her account of the case, her feelings, bittersweet memories of better days withAlan, as well as the many efforts and entreaties she has made to bring back her husband, whose physical health is failing and whose mental fortitude is weakening.Mrs.Gross recalls the last conversation she had with her husband before Cuban authorities whisked him away on December 3, 2009. “We had spoken the night before from his room in the Hotel Presidente,” saidMrs.Gross, adding thatAlan gave no indication that he was in trouble. He was due to return to the US the next day. “When he didn’t come home, I started getting a little nervous,” saysMrs.Gross. “I called the airline to see if he was on the flight from Havana to Miami. I cajoled them into giving me that information, because they’re not allowed to. They confirmed that he wasn’t on the flight.” Prying information out of Cuba is not a simple matter. Just 90 miles off the Florida island chain known as the Keys, Cuba and the US might as well be on different continents. They remain bitter enemies following Fidel Castro’s 1959 coup that overthrew an American-backed government, and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when the US and Soviet Union stood at the brink of war over a Soviet effort to station nuclear arms in Cuba. To this day, the US restricts travel to Cuba to humanitarian aid workers, journalists, or participants on scientific or professional delegations.AlanGross gained entry as part of a semi-covert, USAID-backed democracy program. Some press reports claim he was a highly paid professional who clearly understood the risks he was taking.Mrs.Gross contends thatAlan was “naïve” and ill-prepared by his employers for unexpected contingencies. As is often the case in such human dramas, the full truth will probably never be known. The one incontrovertible fact is that Alan Gross (Abba ben Chava Chana), a member of Maryland’s Jewish community, is now serving a 15-year jail sentence in Cuba, has wasted away during 1,825 days in prison, and has become a pawn in a high-stakes game of political chess, where the board is set up, but neither government appears willing to make the first move. 

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