Alan Gross, still captive in Cuba, losing hope

Alan and Judy Gross in Jerusalem.
Alan and Judy Gross in Jerusalem.

Alan Gross, the contractor from Potomac imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, has taken a major turn for the worse, according to Jill Zuckman, a spokesperson for the family.

Gross, 65, “has said that he will kill himself if he is in prison much longer,” Zuckman said.

During a permitted visit last month between Gross, wife Judy and daughter, Nina, Gross was “saying goodbye,” said Judy Gross. “It was gut wrenching.”

In an interview with Washington Jewish Week, Judy Gross said: “I think he is hopeless.” During last month’s visit, she recalled that Gross said he no longer wanted any visitors.

“I’m hoping to talk to him about that. You know it’s really up to him,” she said.

“He is depressed. I think he is hopeless. I think he thinks the State Department … is useless in terms of information. He gets nothing. He is very frustrated that no one is telling him anything,” Judy Gross said.

In previous visits, she said, her husband still seemed hopeful about his release. But after Gross’ mother died this summer and his health deteriorated, “it’s not a pretty picture.” He is in chronic pain, his wife said. He has lost more than 100 pounds, has arthritis, a mass on his shoulder and has lost vision in his right eye.

On Friday, some 300 rabbis from across the Jewish denominations sent a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to take immediate action to secure Gross’ release.

“Alan went to Cuba on behalf of our government. His immediate release from prison in Cuba and return to the U.S. must be a priority for our nation. Indeed, we believe this is a moral imperative,” the rabbis wrote. ”Our communities are gravely concerned that Alan continues to languish in a Cuban prison nearly five years after his arrest.  We ask, with all respect, that you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure a prompt end to Alan’s, and his family’s, continuing nightmare.”

Securing Alan Gross’ immediate release “remains a top priority of the United States, and his continued incarceration represents a significant impediment to a more constructive bilateral relationship between the United States and Cuba,” National Security Council spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said when asked to respond to the rabbis’ letter, adding that Gross should be “released now.”

“We use every appropriate diplomatic channel to press for Mr. Gross’ release, both publicly and privately.  We have urged governments around the world and prominent figures traveling to Cuba, including religious leaders, to press for Mr. Gross’ immediate release,” Ventrell said. ”This includes President Obama asking Uruguayan President [Jose] Mujica to use any opportunity he might have to raise Alan Gross’ case directly with President [Raul] Castro.”

Ventrell concluded: “Alan Gross is an international development worker. He has been imprisoned by Cuban authorities … for doing nothing more than helping Cuban citizens gain access to the Internet.”

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