The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

December 6, 2013

Left behind in Cuba

The fourth Thanksgiving. The fourth Hanukkah. This is a hard season for Judy Gross, even harder for her husband, Alan, who on Tuesday began his fifth year of captivity in a Cuban prison.

Eleven more years stretch ahead on the sentence for Gross, who spends 23 hours a day in his cell. Gross, now 64, was convicted of “acts against the ... territorial integrity of the state” — bringing cellphones, personal computers and networking devices to help connect Cuba’s tiny Jewish population to the Internet.

All this — and here is the part that is both tragic and galling — not as some kind of cowboy do-gooder but as a contractor for the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development, which runs programs to promote democracy in Cuba.

“It brings up thoughts of how many more years,” Judy Gross told me. “Are we going to be doing this again on the fifth anniversary or on the sixth?”

The Obama administration says it has been doing its utmost to secure Gross’ release, enlisting everyone from the pope to Latin American leaders. The Gross family begs to differ. In a letter to President Obama released Tuesday, Alan Gross outlined his ordeal and described his sense of being “abandoned” by the government he served.

“I have lost almost everything in the last four years, most of all time with my family,” Gross wrote. “I have had to ask my daughters not to visit because I cannot bear them seeing me like this, a shadow of my former self, surrounded by men with machine guns.”

During his imprisonment, Gross’ older daughter battled breast cancer, then walked down the aisle for her wedding without her father.

“I still want to believe that my government values my life and my service, and that a U.S. passport means something,” Gross wrote. “I refuse to accept that my country would leave me behind.”

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