Alan Gross, U.S. Contractor Held in Cuba, Goes on Hunger Strike 1

James L. Berenthal/AP - In this Nov. 27, 2012 file photo provided by James L. Berenthal, jailed American Alan Gross poses for a photo during a visit by Rabbi Elie Abadie and U.S. lawyer James L. Berenthal at Finlay military hospital as he serves a prison sentence in Havana, Cuba.

James L. Berenthal/AP – In this Nov. 27, 2012 file photo provided by James L. Berenthal, jailed American Alan Gross poses for a photo during a visit by Rabbi Elie Abadie and U.S. lawyer James L. Berenthal at Finlay military hospital as he serves a prison sentence in Havana, Cuba.

By Karen DeYoung, Washinton Post

Alan Gross, the U.S. government contractor who has been imprisoned in Cuba for more than four years, began a hunger strike last week to protest his treatment by both the Cuban and U.S. governments, his lawyer said Tuesday.

“I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions, and inaction by both governments, not only regarding their shared responsibility for my arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal,” Gross said in a telephoned statement to his legal team.

As he has many times before, Gross called on President Obama to become personally involved in efforts to free him from “inhumane treatment” in a Cuban prison.

Gross was arrested in 2009 for distributing Internet and other communications materials in Cuba under a program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. He was sentenced to 15 years for crimes against the Cuban state and is said to be in poor health.

His case moved back into the limelight last week following revelations about a separate USAID program to undermine Cuba’s communist government with a Twitter-like network designed to build an audience among Cuban youth and push them toward anti-government dissent. While unclassified, administration officials have described the program as “discreet.”

The “Cuban Twitter” program, discontinued in 2012, caused an uproar among U.S. lawmakers who charged they had never approved spending for it. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who heads the appropriations subcommittee in charge of the USAID budget, called the program “dumb, dumb, dumb.”

Others praised the program, which they called laudable effort to circumvent Cuban restrictions on Internet freedom. Such efforts help “provide uncensored access to information and communications for the Cuban people and others struggling around the globe against repression, censorship and the denial of basic human rights,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Since 1996, Congress has appropriated more than $200 million for “democracy assistance” programs in Cuba. USAID has been given wide discretion in deciding what the money is used for. Most of the programs are subcontracted to firms like Development Alternatives, Inc., which received a $6 million contract, under which Gross was working.

USAID Administration Rajiv Shah is scheduled to testify before Leahy’s subcommittee Tuesday morning.

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