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Exclusive to Mishpacha: I Never Lost Hope

Binyamin Rose

He spent five years in a Cuban military prison for a crime he never committed, as his wife rallied the public and press to ramp up pressure on a government that seemed apathetic to his plight. A year after the prisoner swap that secured his freedom, Alan Gross and his wife Judy return to that dark time, in a conversation punctuated by drama, wit, vulnerability, and triumph.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A little more than a year after his release,AlanGross looks as fit as any man in his mid-60s. He hasn’t regained all of the weight he lost in jail, but he’s happy about that. “I was obese when I got there,”Alan says. “I lost 110 pounds, 70 in the first year.”AlanGross arrived in Cuba as a State Department subcontractor to set up high-speed Internet and communications equipment for the Jewish community on this isolated island nation, where citizens have chafed for more than 50 years under a Communist yoke, including draconian restrictions on press freedoms. Cuban authorities viewed his presence differently. They arrested him in December 2009 — during his fifth trip to Cuba that year — and held him without charges for 14 months before trying him before a five-judge panel, in a show trial that lasted two days. “Which in comparison to what the Cubans get was a very long and drawn out process,”Alan says. “Usually the Cubans get a five-minute trial. But it doesn’t matter because the outcome is always the same. If you go to trial, you get convicted.” AndAlan did. The court sentenced him to 15 years for “committing acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state,” a charge most often leveled at political prisoners, human rights activists, and counterrevolutionaries. His ultimate release, in a high-profile prisoner swap, culminated in the restoration of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba after a more than 50-year hiatus that followedFidelCastro’s takeover and the Cuban missile crisis. “I knew I was an unintentional catalyst prior to my release,” saysAlan, who strongly favors the current thaw. “Since my release I’ve been an intentional catalyst — and if I ever have permission to return to Cuba, which I am seeking, I will be an activist.”

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