By Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau
The White House marked the fifth anniversary of U.S. contractor Alan Gross’s captivity in Cuba by calling for his release, saying it “would remove an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba.”
Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, has been held in Cuba since his arrest on Dec. 3, 2009, for smuggling satellite communications equipment to Cuba as part of USAID’s pro-democracy programs.
The administration “remains focused on securing Alan’s freedom from a Cuban prison, and returning him safely to his wife and children, where he belongs,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement, saying the U.S. is “deeply concerned” about Gross’s health and that a release on humanitarian grounds would make it easier to normalize relations with Cuba.
But Gross has become increasingly frustrated with the U.S. government and its failure so far to win his freedom, said his wife, Judy, who said Wednesday it was “time for President Obama to bring Alan back to the United States now; otherwise it will be too late.”
“Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end,” Gross said. “After five years of literally wasting away, Alan is done.”
The Cuban government has linked Gross’s release to the imprisonment of five Cubans convicted in 2001 of infiltrating South Florida military installations and spying on the exile community. But the administration has repeatedly ruled out a swap, saying the USAID subcontractor wasn’t a spy and can’t be part of a spy-for-spy swap.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called for Cuba to release Gross and urged the Obama administration to “step up its efforts” to secure an “unconditional release” for Gross.
“Unilateral concessions by the U.S. government to the Castro regime will help fund more human rights violations, and keep real freedom further out of reach for the Cuban people,” Rubio said.