By Karen DeYoung and Peter Wallsten, Washington Post
On the fourth anniversary of his imprisonment in Cuba, former U.S. government contractor Alan Gross said he fears his country has “abandoned” him and appealed to President Obama to personally intervene in his case.
In a letter to the president, sent via the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, Gross describes his isolation from the world, adding that his daughter and mother have been stricken by cancer, his wife has had to sell the family home in Maryland, and “my business and career have been destroyed.”
Indirectly critical of what his family views as lackluster efforts to secure his release, Gross notes that this administration and its predecessors “have taken extraordinary steps to obtain the release of other U.S. citizens imprisoned abroad.” But unlike in those cases, Obama has sent no special emissaries nor agreed to negotiate over him.
The letter, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post, is to be delivered to the White House on Tuesday — the anniversary of Gross’s 2009 arrest in Havana. It is part of a new strategy by his family to direct pressure at Obama, including in a demonstration Tuesday outside the White House led by his Gross’s wife, Judy.
Gross’s disenchantment with the administration over his treatment is shared by a growing number of U.S. lawmakers, who see him as one of the last victims of the Cold War and the decades-long freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations that has persisted despite Obama’s early pledges to work toward a thaw.
In a letter to the president last month, a bipartisan group of 66 senators, spearheaded by Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), called Gross’s case “a matter of grave urgency” and urged Obama to “act expeditiously to take whatever steps are in the national interest to obtain his release.” The senators told Obama that they “stand ready to support your administration in pursuit of this worthy goal.”
A week earlier, a separate group of 14 lawmakers, led by Cuban American Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), exhorted Obama to continue his policy of demanding Gross’s “immediate and unconditional release.” In a statement Monday, Leahy countered that “instead of simply demanding Mr. Gross’ unconditional release — which has achieved nothing in four years, and which his family regards as a death sentence — they should not shrink from the obligation to negotiate for his freedom.”
Gross, a 64-year-old Maryland native, was detained while distributing communications equipment to Jewish groups in Cuba under a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development. He was convicted in 2011 of crimes against the Cuban state and sentenced to 15 years.
His continued imprisonment comes as the administration has eased restrictions on American travel to Cuba and held direct negotiations over a range of issues, including immigration, postal services and cooperation on possible oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida.
Although critical of the Cuban government’s restrictions on civil rights and personal freedom, Obama has indicated that he has little enthusiasm for the trade embargo and economic sanctions imposed on Cuba more than a half-century ago.