Judy Gross has spent three years of fruitless behind-the-scenes negotiation trying to obtain the freedom of her husband, Alan, from a Cuban prison. Now, with patience waning and worry for her husband’s health growing, she’s taking a louder, center-stage approach, staging public vigils and calling on the president to help win his freedom.
On Tuesday, Gross held a press conference on Capitol Hill with U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), marking the start of the fourth year her husband has been in prison. The Senate also passed a resolution condemning Alan Gross’ arrest and calling on the Cuban government to release him and return him to his family.
And last week, Moran and Cardin sent a letter, signed by 44 members of the U.S. Senate, requesting Alan Gross’ release on humanitarian grounds.
Gross, a former Potomac resident, was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Cuban government in December 2009 for “crimes against the state.”
When he was arrested, Gross was working as a subcontractor for USAID on a project to help increase the availability of Internet access to Cuba’s Jewish population, Gross’ lawyer Jared Genser said.
Sunday marked Gross’ third year behind bars in Cuba. Hundreds of supporters of the Gross family gathered outside of the Cuban Special Interests Section — Cuba’s version of an embassy — on 16th Street in Washington D.C., to mark the anniversary.
Judy Gross demanded the release of her husband from Cuba’s prison, telling the crowd that her husband “is frail, suffers from chronic pain, ... and still doesn’t know whether he has cancer.”
She and the couple’s supporters demanded that Cuba allow an independent physician to examine her husband, who has lost 110 pounds since he was imprisoned, suffers from degenerative arthritis, and has what the family believes may be a cancerous growth on his shoulder.
The Cuban government issued a statement Nov. 28, after a biopsy was performed on Gross, stating that the growth was not cancerous.
“If the Cuban government has nothing to hide, why don’t they allow an independent medical exam to allay our concerns?” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, before the Sunday vigil.
Judy Gross and her supporters at the vigil called for more productive talks between the U.S. and Cuban governments.
“We must start with a clean slate,” Gross said. “What has happened or not happened is over. We must begin legitimate talks.”
Her husband is losing hope, she said. She told the crowd that in a recent conversation, Gross had told her, “I feel dumped by my own government and left to die in this cell.”
Then, voice rising, she said, “Mr. President, bring this man home!”
The couple also has filed suit against both the U.S. Government and Development Alternatives Incorporated, the contractor for which Gross was working in Cuba. Scott Gilbert, another lawyer for the Grosses, said that the lawsuits, seeking up to $60 million from the U.S. government and DAI claim both entities did not prepare or warn Gross for the dangers of the work in Cuba.