Maryland Man Jailed in Cuba Unlikely to Be Freed for Mother's Funeral

Alan Gross of Bethesda was arrested in December 2009 for distributing Internet communication materials in Cuba. This week he was denied permission to attend his mother's funeral.

Alan Gross of Bethesda. File|Patch
Alan Gross of Bethesda. File|Patch

Bethesda resident Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, is unlikely to be allowed to return to the United States for his mother’s funeral.

Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 for distributing Internet and communications materials on behalf of the agency.

In April of this year he staged a brief hunger strike to protest both his imprisonment by Cuba and U.S. inaction on his case, Patch earlier reported. His mother, Evelyn Gross, 92, had persuaded her son to end the campaign.

An Associated Press story carried by NBC News says that Evelyn Gross died of lung cancer Wednesday in Plano, Texas. It seems doubtful her son will be allowed to return for her funeral despite the urging of U.S. officials.

Alan Gross called his mother regularly from prison, the AP reports, and he had previously asked to visit his ill mother before she died. Gross promised to return to prison in Cuba if he were allowed to visit his mother, but Cuban officials refused.

A U.S. government plan to create a Twitter-like platform in Cuba was dumb and may have endangered Gross’ life and others around the world, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said at a Congressional hearing in April.

The USAID social media program was intended to popularize a Cuban version of Twitter known as ZunZuneo among youths to spark political conversations and dissent. Its existence from 2010 to 2012 was revealed earlier this year by the Associated Press.

The social media platform was built through secret shell companies and financed through foreign banks, according to the Associated Press. Cuban users were not aware of the tool’s connection to the U.S. government until this spring.

Leahy called the Twitter program “cockamamie” and “dumb in its inception.”

Gross’s lawyer, Scott Gilbert, said USAID’s actions have put him at greater risk.

"Once Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety even further by running a covert operation in Cuba,” said Gilbert in April 2014. “USAID has made one absurdly bad decision after another. Running this program is contrary to everything we have been told by high-level representatives of the Obama Administration about USAID's activities in Cuba."

Gross is serving his fifth year of a 15-year sentence, which, given his age and poor health, Leahy called “basically a death sentence.”

Since his detainment, Gross has lost more than 110 pounds, said Gilbert. He is kept in a small cell with the lights on at all times with two other prisoners for 23 hours a day.

Gross was made aware of the risks he was taking in Cuba before departing on the mission, said Chief of USAID Rajiv Shah in testimony before Congress in April 2014.

MG42 June 20, 2014 at 12:59 PM
Why would anyone expect him to be released for his mother's funeral? How many jailed criminals does the United States release to attend funerals? Jail is jail, you don't get to leave whenever you want.
mary collins finn June 21, 2014 at 07:38 AM
It is time for them to do an exchange. There are five Cubans in US prisons accused of spying. They are serving sentences of around 40 years. They are young and have young families in Cuba. I visited Cuba in 2012 on a people-to-people visa and the English language paper carried a headline: Obama Give Me Five…referring to these prisoners as well as pleas from their families. Time to end the Cold War once and for all and bring this man home.
matt dougherty June 21, 2014 at 09:16 AM
Patrick Carter June 21, 2014 at 02:38 PM
We should have took over Cuba years ago and make it a US territory. We still should do this having to be concerned with a country less than 100 miles away is ubsurd.
Wm Thomas Capps July 03, 2014 at 01:14 PM
I feel bad for the guy being held in Cuba. That said this is what happens when you go to a communist state. many Americans go to countries where the rule of law is backed by a dictator with a gun. It is very dumb to go to these countries as well as the middle east.


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