Alan Gross

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Alan Gross
Alan Gross talking on the phone
Alan Gross talking on the phone with President Barack Obama, 2014
Born Alan Phillip Gross
(1949-05-02) May 2, 1949 (age 65)
New York
Nationality American
Occupation United States government contractor employed by U.S. Agency for International Development
Criminal penalty
15 years in prison for importing banned technology with the intent of establishing clandestine Internet service[1][2][3][4]
Criminal status Released
Spouse(s) Judith Gross

Alan Phillip Gross (born May 2, 1949)[5] is an American international development professional.

In December 2009 he was arrested while in Cuba working as a U.S. government subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of a program funded under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act.[6] He was prosecuted in 2011 after being accused of crimes against the Cuban state for bringing satellite phones and computer equipment (to members of Cuba’s Jewish community) without the permit required under Cuban law.[7] After being accused of working for American intelligence services in January 2010, he was ultimately convicted for “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state" in March 2011.[8] He was released from Cuban prison on December 17, 2014.[9]

Life and career[edit]

Gross was born in New York to a Jewish family, [5] and later moved to Maryland.[10] He studied social work at the University of Maryland and the Virginia Commonwealth University. He had a long career as an international development worker who had been active in some 50 countries and territories across the Middle East, Africa, and Europe,[11] including Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was setting up satellite communications systems to circumvent state-controlled channels.[12]

In 2001, he founded Joint Business Development Center, a small company earning less than US$70,000 in 2009, which supports "Internet connectivity in locations where there [is] little or no access", according to the New York Times.[13] Gross and his wife Judy lived in Potomac, Maryland, a Washington, D.C. suburb. The couple has two daughters.[14]

Gross was a contractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).[15]

Arrest and trial[edit]

Background[edit]

Gross was working with Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), a contractor working with USAID who had won a US$6 million U.S. government contract for the program in which Gross was involved, a controversial "democracy-promotion program" that ballooned under the Bush administration, to provide communications equipment to break the Cuban government's 'information blockade'.[14] Gross received more than US$500,000. He spoke little Spanish and had not worked in Cuba before.[16]

USAID's US$20 million Cuba program, authorized by a law calling for regime change in Cuba, has been criticized repeatedly in congressional reports as being wasteful and ineffective, and putting people in danger.[17] Funding was held up briefly in 2010 over concerns following Gross's arrest.[16]

Before his arrest, Gross visited Cuba four times in five months in 2009 on a tourist visa, according to American officials to deliver computer and satellite equipment to three Jewish community groups. In December 2009, according to Development Alternatives Inc., he was on a follow-up trip, researching how the groups were making use of the equipment he had previously distributed to them.[13] As reported by the Jewish Daily Forward, Cuba's small Jewish community of fewer than 2,000 people who mainly live in Havana enjoys religious freedom, the possibility to emigrate to Israel, and has fairly good relations with the government under Raúl Castro,[6] but has little influence, making observers wonder why the United States provides material to them under a USAID program that usually targets dissidents. According to a Latin America specialist for the Council on Foreign Relations it is possible that Gross’s mission was useful only in as much as it satisfied Congressional demand to take action in Cuba.[18]

In January 2012, it was reported that Cuban authorities claim that Gross has visited Cuba as early as 2004, delivering a video camera to a leading Freemason who later declared that he had been a Cuban intelligence agent since 2000.[19]

Gross filed reports for USAID of his four visits to Cuba in 2009. The report of the fifth and final trip was written by a representative of Gross's company.[20] A review of the reports was revealed on February 12, 2012, by the Associated Press (AP). According to the reports, Gross was aware of the risks he was taking.[21] AP reports that Gross did not identify himself as a representative of the U.S. government, but claimed to be a member of a Jewish humanitarian group. To escape Cuban authorities' detection, he enlisted the help of American Jews to transport electronic equipment, instructing them to pack items a piece at a time in carry-on luggage, and also travelled with American Jewish humanitarian groups doing missions on the island so he could intercede with Cuban authorities if questions arose. Gross declared that he was thoroughly inspected by the customs officials at Jose Marti International Airport when entering the country, and that he declared all of the items in his possession.[22] The equipment he brought to Cuba on his fourth trip, most but not all of which is legal in Cuba, included 12 iPods, 11 BlackBerry Curve smartphones, three MacBooks, six 500-gigabyte external drives, three Internet satellite phones known as BGANs, three routers, three controllers, 18 wireless access points, 13 memory sticks, three VoIP phones, and networking switches. In his report on this trip, marked as final, he summarized: “Wireless networks established in three communities; about 325 users”. However, he went to Cuba for a fifth time in late November 2009 and was arrested 11 days later.[20] When he was arrested, he was carrying a high-tech chip,[21] intended to keep satellite phone transmissions from being located within 250 miles (400 kilometres). The chip is not available on the open market. It is provided most frequently to the CIA and the Defense Department, but can also be obtained by the State Department, which oversees USAID. Asked how Gross obtained the card, a USAID spokesman said that the agency played no role in helping Gross acquire equipment.[20]

Arrest[edit]

Gross was arrested on December 3, 2009, at Havana Airport.[23] He was jailed at Villa Marista prison, a detention center.[24] According to classified U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks which show that the arrest came amid heightened tensions between Cuba and the U.S., Gross spent 25 days in jail before receiving his first visit from a U.S. diplomat, but was visited by a Cuban attorney earlier and was allowed to telephone his wife three days after his arrest on December 6 for the first time and again on December 23. During the one hour visit by the representative of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana on December 28, 2009, Gross stated that Cuban officials were "treating him 'with respect', though his interrogation had been 'very intense at first', lasting an average of two hours a day". According to the cable, the cell Gross had to share with two other men had a TV and a fan.[23]

The attorney who visited Gross in jail, Armanda Nuria Piñero Sierra, was hired as Gross's lawyer and handled his trial and appeals. She also represents the families of five Cubans held in U.S. prisons, after being convicted in 2001 on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage against U.S. military installations, leading to the immediate speculation after Gross's arrest, that Cuba wanted to swap him for the five Cubans.[23] In October 2011, it was revealed that the U.S. State Department had offered to let one of them who had been released from prison in the U.S. on probation serve the remainder of his probation in Cuba, in exchange for Gross's release.[25]

US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Gross's treatment was an attempt by Cuba to get a 'concession'.[13] Many Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major North American Organizations and the American Jewish Committee, protested against his detention.[26]

Charges[edit]

In January 2010, Ricardo Alarcón, the president of the Cuban National Assembly, said that Gross was "contracted to work for American intelligence services", which was denied by both the U.S. government and Gross's attorneys. Gross's trial was set on March 4, 2011.[14][27] More than a year later, Gross was charged in February 2011 not with espionage but with "Acts against the Independence and Territorial Integrity of the State" (Actos Contra la Independencia o la Integridad Territorial del Estado),[28] facing up to 20 years in prison.[27]

Sentencing[edit]

On March 12, 2011, Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison.[24][29] According to the Cuban News Agency, he had been part of a "subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the Revolution through the use of communication systems out of the control of authorities".[29] Gross's wife attended the trial with her attorney. Three U.S. officials also attended as observers.[24]

Gross's case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Cuba, which affirmed the sentence in August 2011.[30]

Reactions and advocacy[edit]

Alan Gross with his wife Judy, attorney Scott Gilbert, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. watch television onboard a government plane headed back to the US as the news breaks of his release, Dec. 17, 2014.

After the sentence was passed, Gross's American attorney Peter J. Kahn said in a written statement: "The Gross family is devastated by the verdict and harsh sentence announced today by the Cuban authorities. Having already served a 15-month sentence in a Cuban prison, Alan and his family have paid an enormous personal price in the long-standing political feud between Cuba and the United States". Kahn pledged to "continue to work with Alan's Cuban attorney in exploring any and all options available to him, including the possibility of an appeal". He also called for Gross's immediate release on humanitarian grounds.[24]

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor responded to the ruling, saying that it "adds another injustice to Alan Gross's ordeal", and that "he has already spent too many days in detention and should not spend one more", and asked for "the immediate release of Mr. Gross so that he can return home to his wife and family".[24]

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that Gross had been "unjustly jailed for far too long... He needs to be able to leave Cuba and return home", adding "this is a matter of great personal pain to his family and concern to the U.S. government".[24]

Several members of Congress have visited Cuba to see Gross.[31]

The Jewish community and others called on Pope Benedict XVI to appeal to Raul Castro during his visit to Cuba in March 2012 to release Gross.[18]

Gross's wife, after fighting to persuade the organized Jewish community to rally behind a humanitarian campaign to free her husband, has publicly criticized President Barack Obama and U.S. policy toward Cuba.[18] In a March 13, 2012 interview with Politico, after having hired the public relations company Burson-Marsteller on the State Department′s recommendation,[18] she called her husband a "pawn" in a "failed policy" between the Cuban and American governments, adding "the trial wasn’t about him. It was about USAID and U.S. policy towards Cuba".[31] Gross reportedly insists that his "goals were not the same as the program that sent [him]," and called on the Obama administration to meet Cuba at the negotiating table to solve bilateral issues between the two states, including his case.[32]

Incarceration[edit]

In April 2014, he went on a hunger strike for nine days.[33]

In August 2014, his wife reported on their official website, www.bringalanhome.org, that Gross refused to see her or their daughter when they go to see him in Cuba, and also refused to see visitors from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, such as U.S. diplomats.[34][35][36][37] In August 2014, his wife and daughter wrote on their official website that Gross told them not to visit him again and in December 2014, it was reported that they have not.[38][35]

Gross was housed in the Carlos J. Finlay Military Hospital with two other inmates that speak Spanish.[39][40] Gross reportedly spoke a little bit of Spanish.[41]

It was reported in December 2014 that Gross refused to be treated by doctors in Cuba and had threatened to go on hunger strikes if he is not unconditionally released.[42]

Health[edit]

When arrested, Gross weighed 254 pounds (115 kg). Since his incarceration, he has gotten down to a healthy weight.[43][44] Gross refuses medical and dental care.[45] According to his wife and attorney, Gross's health has deteriorated during his incarceration and this is a reason to release him immediately. They also claim he has degenerative arthritis and has difficulty walking. In May 2012, a mass developed on his right shoulder, which was diagnosed by Cuban doctors as a hematoma (collection of blood).[46][47] Gross's family hired a U.S. radiologist who claimed that the mass was improperly diagnosed, and that Gross could be suffering from cancer so Gross should be released on that basis.[48] Gross's former lawyer, Jared Genser, issued a press release saying he had filed a petition with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.[49][50] At the same time, "extremely concerned about Alan Gross's health,"[46] the U.S. State Department called for Gross's immediate release.[51]

On the other hand, the President of the Hebrew Community of Cuba (Spanish: Casa de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba), Adela Dworin, who has visited Gross in jail several times, claimed that Gross "looked very agile" and was not particularly worried about the mass on his shoulder.[52] In November 2012, the Miami Herald reported that New York Rabbi Elie Abadie, who is also a physician, told The Associated Press that “Alan Gross does not have any cancerous growth at this time, at least based on the studies I was shown and based on the examination, and I think he understands that also,” after personally examining Gross and receiving a briefing from a team of Cuban physicians who attended Gross.

The Cuban Foreign Affairs Ministry, in a statement detailing a meeting between diplomats of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, a doctor and nurse from the U.S. mission, and members of the Cuban medical team that presented the results of the biopsy performed on the lesion behind Gross's right shoulder, confirmed that the hematoma was not carcinogenic.[53] The Cuban Government also maintains that Gross's health is normal for a man his age and that he is being properly treated, after having stated a few months earlier that Gross, who is held at a military hospital, "could be held at any prison facility", meaning that he is in good and stable health.[46]

In December 2014, Gross released a statement complaining that his teeth had fallen out and that he had lost weight while at the same time stating that he refuses all medical and dental care because he wants to be immediately released from prison.[54]

Lawsuits[edit]

In November 2012, Gross and his wife, Judith, sued Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) and USAID for failing to adequately prepare, train and supervise him given the dangerous nature of the program's activities. Reportedly, they are seeking $60 million compensatory damages. In November 2013, it was announced that DAI and Gross and his wife had reached a secret settlement.[55][56]

Gross and his wife filed another lawsuit, reportedly seeking $10 million from Gross's insurer Federal Insurance Company for benefits they say the company has denied.[57][58]

Release[edit]

In November 2014, The New York Times called for the United States to engage in a prisoner swap with Cuba.[59] On December 17, 2014, the Cuban government released Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds and allowed him to return to the United States on a U.S. government plane. Some members of the Cuban Five were also released on December 17, 2014, although the governments characterized the two releases as being unconnected.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "American Alan Gross Completes 5th Year in Cuban Prison". VOA. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Wife Says Alan Gross' Health, Spirits Failing; Worried He'll Do 'Something Drastic'". Fox News Latino. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  3. ^ "White House renews call for Cuba to release Alan Gross". Fox News Latino. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  4. ^ "American Alan Gross completes fifth year in Cuban prison". Reuters. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "IMMEDIATE AND UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF UNITED STATES CITIZEN ALAN PHILLIP GROSS". Congressional Record (United States Government Printing Office) 158 (155). December 5, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Guttman, Nathan (November 21, 2011). "New Jewish Push To Free Alan Gross". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  7. ^ Ukman, Jason (August 5, 2011). "Cuba rejects appeal of U.S. contractor Alan Gross". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Sentence". People's Provincial Tribunal of Havanna. 
  9. ^ a b Elise Labott, "Cuba releases American Alan Gross in prisoner swap", CNN (December 17, 2014).
  10. ^ "Jewish-American contractor Alan Gross sentenced to 15 years in Cuba jail". Haaretz. The Associated Press. March 13, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Alan Gross Begins Fourth Year of Unjust Imprisonment". US Department of State. 
  12. ^ Landau, Saul (August 31, 2010). "The Alan Gross Case". Institute for Policy Studies. Cuba Solidarity Campaign. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  13. ^ a b c Thompson, Ginger; Lacey, Marc (January 12, 2010). "Contractor Jailed in Cuba Was Aiding Religious Groups, U.S. Says". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 2, 2011. Retrieved March 14, 2011. 
  14. ^ a b c Sheridan, Mary Beth; Booth, William (January 13, 2010). "Detainee was helping Cuban Jewish groups involved in U.S. democracy project". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 14, 2011. 
  15. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/09/world/americas/alan-gross-cuba.html?_r=0
  16. ^ a b Haven, Paul (March 12, 2011). "American contractor found guilty in Cuba". The Miami Herald. Associated Press. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  17. ^ Padgett, Tim (August 9, 2011). "The Alan Gross Affair: The U.S. and Cuba Begin Their Dysfunctional Diplomatic Dance". Time Magazine. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  18. ^ a b c d Berger, Paul (March 23, 2012). "New Tactic in Alan Gross Fight". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  19. ^ Tamayo, Juan O. (January 26, 2012). "Details of Cuba's case against U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross leak out". Retrieved February 17, 2012. 
  20. ^ a b c Butler, Desmond (February 13, 2012). "AP Impact: USAID contractor work in Cuba detailed". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved February 17, 2012. 
  21. ^ a b Berger, Paul (February 15, 2012). "What Did Alan Gross Do in Cuba? Reports Show Accused Spy Knew the Risks He Was Taking". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved February 17, 2012. 
  22. ^ "Declaration by Alan P. Gross, 243444, Ref: Preparatory File Number 59 of 2009, Case Number 1/11, Mar. 4, 2011". 
  23. ^ a b c Tamayo, Juan O. (September 1, 2011). "WikiLeaks: Cables detail concerns of U.S. contractor held in Cuba". The Miami Herald. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  24. ^ a b c d e f "U.S. contractor sentenced to 15 years in Cuban prison". CNN. March 12, 2011. Archived from the original on March 14, 2011. Retrieved March 14, 2011. 
  25. ^ Thale, Geoff (October 24, 2011). "The Possibility of an Alan Gross-Rene Gonzalez Prisoner Swap U.S.-Cuba Negotiations or Political Theater?". Wola, Washington Office on Latin America. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  26. ^ Shefler, Gil (March 13, 2011). "Cuba sentence for Jewish aid worker draws US ire". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved March 15, 2011. 
  27. ^ a b Darlington, Shasta (February 24, 2011). "Trial for American jailed in Cuba set for March 4". CNN. Retrieved March 14, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Cuban Authorities Set Date For Trial Of U.S. Contractor Alan Gross". latindispatch.com. February 25, 2011. Retrieved March 14, 2011. 
  29. ^ a b "Alan Gross Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison". ACN. Cuban News Agency. March 12, 2011. Retrieved March 15, 2011. 
  30. ^ "Cuba upholds US contractor Alan Gross sentence". BBC. August 5, 2011. Retrieved September 14, 2011. 
  31. ^ a b Mak, Tim (March 13, 2012). "Wife's plea for American held in Cuba". Politico. Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  32. ^ Kornbluh, Peter (January 18, 2013). "Alan Gross Case Spotlights U.S. Democracy Programs in Cuba". The National Security Archive. 
  33. ^ Alan Gomez, USA TODAY (December 3, 2014). "American contractor marks 5th year in Cuban prison". Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  34. ^ "BBC News - US contractor Alan Gross 'may not survive' Cuba jail term". BBC News. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  35. ^ a b "News/Press - Bring Alan Home". Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  36. ^ "U.S. contractor Alan Gross marks 5 years jailed in Cuba, says he will die if not freed by May". Fox News Latino. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  37. ^ Alan Gomez, USA TODAY (December 3, 2014). "American contractor marks 5th year in Cuban prison". Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  38. ^ Alan Gomez, USA TODAY (December 3, 2014). "American contractor marks 5th year in Cuban prison". Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  39. ^ ABC News. "US and Cuba Working On Solution to Free American Alan Gross From Cuban Jail". ABC News. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  40. ^ "American Alan Gross completes fifth year in Cuban prison". Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  41. ^ "U.S. Senators Visit Alan Gross In Cuba". Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  42. ^ ABC News. "US and Cuba Working On Solution to Free American Alan Gross From Cuban Jail". ABC News. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  43. ^ "American Alan Gross completes fifth year in Cuban prison". Yahoo News. December 3, 2014. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  44. ^ "Alan Gross, American Man Jailed In Cuba, Does Not Have Cancer, Authorities Say". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  45. ^ ABC News. "US and Cuba Working On Solution to Free American Alan Gross From Cuban Jail". ABC News. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  46. ^ a b c Haven, Paul (June 15, 2012). "Alan Gross, American Jailed In Cuba, In Good Condition, Cuban Authorities Say". Huffington Post. 
  47. ^ Franks, Jeff (September 12, 2012). "Cuba says jailed American's health OK, renews offer of talks". Reuters. 
  48. ^ "American Alan Gross, jailed in Cuba, may have cancer". Reuters. October 2, 2012. 
  49. ^ "UN Informs Cuba that Detention of Alan Gross Violates International Law". Algemeiner.com. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  50. ^ Genser, Jared, Perseus Strategies (November 11, 2012). "RE: Mistreatment of Alan Phillip Gross in Cuba". 
  51. ^ Toner, Mark C., Deputy Spokesperson (December 3, 2012). "Alan Gross Begins Fourth Year of Unjust Imprisonment. Press Statement". U.S. State Department, Office of the Spokesperson. 
  52. ^ Franks, Jeff (September 29, 2012). "Cuban Jewish leader says Alan Gross fit, in good spirits". Reuters. 
  53. ^ "U.S. rabbi and Cubans say Alan Gross in good health". The Miami Herald. November 28, 2012. Retrieved February 26, 2012. 
  54. ^ ABC News. "US and Cuba Working On Solution to Free American Alan Gross From Cuban Jail". ABC News. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  55. ^ DAI. "Gross Family and DAI Settle Case Relating to Cuba Imprisonment". Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  56. ^ "Alan Gross Settles Suit on 'Risky' Work in Cuba". The Jewish Daily Forward. May 17, 2013. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  57. ^ JTA (November 18, 2012). "Judith Gross sues U.S. government, contractor on husband Alan’s behalf". Haaretz. 
  58. ^ "Alan Gross Settles Suit on 'Risky' Work in Cuba". The Jewish Daily Forward. May 17, 2013. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 
  59. ^ Londona, Ernesto (November 2, 2014). "Alan Gross and the Cuban Five: A Timeline". New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]