By Ian Duncan, The Baltimore Sun
Four times, Alan Gross traveled to Cuba, lugging with him Internet equipment to connect the island’s small Jewish community to the outside world. And four times, he completed his trips to the Caribbean island nation without a problem.
With each trip he made, the Potomac man became more concerned about his work, which defied the Cuban government’s strict controls on the Internet. But at worst, he assumed, if he ran afoul of the Cuban authorities, he’d be held briefly before being kicked out of the country.
But at the end of his fifth trip, in late 2009, police seized Gross. He was charged with crimes against the state, convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Wednesday marks his fifth year in custody.
For his family, Gross’ incarceration has been an unending nightmare. For diplomats, it is a significant sticking point in the long-strained relationship between the United States and Cuba, the communist nation 90 miles from Florida.
Gross’ supporters say his health is declining — once 254 pounds, he’s lost 100 pounds since being locked up — and he’s on the brink of losing hope.
“Five years is far too long for an innocent man to be locked away from his family and his country,” said Gross’ attorney, Scott Gilbert. “Alan is about to give up, and we are running out of time.”
The State Department, members of Congress including Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, and former officials including President Jimmy Carter have campaigned for Gross’ release. Sens. Jeff Flake and Tom Udall traveled to Havana recently and met separately with Gross and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, but returned empty-handed.
A spokeswoman for Van Hollen said the Montgomery County Democrat spoke with Gross by telephone in October and told him he was still pressing for his release.
“Every day that he sits in prison in Havana is another day of injustice for Alan Gross and another day that Cuba is missing an important opportunity to begin to reshape its relations with the United States,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
Cuban officials have proposed a swap: the release of Gross for the return of the three members of a group known as the Cuban Five who are still imprisoned in the United States. U.S. officials have opposed the deal, saying Gross was an aid worker, while the Cuban Five were intelligence operatives who were convicted in federal court of conspiracy to commit espionage and other charges.
Articles continues here: Gross Marks 5 Years in Cuban Prison