New Tactic in Alan Gross Fight

Wife Pressures U.S. in Push for Release From Cuba Jail

Jailhouse Visit: Rabbi Arthur Schneier meets this month with Alan Gross, right, at the Cuban jail where Gross is being held.
appeal of conscience foundation
Jailhouse Visit: Rabbi Arthur Schneier meets this month with Alan Gross, right, at the Cuban jail where Gross is being held.

By Paul Berger

Published March 23, 2012, issue of March 30, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Upon hearing of Gonzalez’s success, she released a statement saying that she was pleased. “I now hope that President Castro will grant Alan’s request to visit his ailing mother, Evelyn, who is suffering from inoperable lung cancer” Gross said. “Evelyn’s final wish is to see her son one last time.”

In a March 17 interview with the Forward, Judy Gross denied that she had linked the two cases. “All I am saying is I feel badly for him [Gonzalez],” Gross said, “and I do empathize with his position.”

She said that her husband, who suffers from arthritis, is in a “great deal of pain.” He has lost about 100 pounds since his arrest and in recent weeks has become increasingly depressed, she said.

Gross denied that she was incorporating a political element into her strategy. “I’m not a political person,” she told the Forward. Choosing her words carefully, she added that she would concentrate on humanitarian appeals and the forthcoming papal visit to Cuba to secure her husband’s release.

But in recent weeks, her statements have taken on a political edge. In a March 13 interview with Politico, Gross called her husband a “pawn” in a “failed policy” between the Cuban and American governments and said she was “disappointed” that Obama had not responded to requests to discuss her husband’s case with her.

The apparent shift in approach coincides with the intervention of a top Washington public relations company, Burson-Marsteller, in her husband’s campaign.

Burson-Marsteller contacted the Forward at the end of February, requesting that this newspaper highlight Alan Gross’s case. An employee claimed in an email that the State Department had asked the firm to support Gross’s case “on an urgent pro bono” basis.

Don Baer, a Burson-Marsteller executive, denied that the firm was working for the State Department. Baer said the firm’s client was Judy Gross and that the State Department had only “recommended” that the two sides contact each other.

Alan Gross was arrested in Havana while working under a $500,000 contract from Development Alternatives, Inc., a subcontractor of USAID. The State Department agency spends tens of millions of dollars each year on what it describes as “democracy-building” programs in Cuba. The Cuban government sees such activities as a threat to the regime.

By Cuba’s low standards, the island’s tiny Jewish community, which numbers about 1,500 people, lives a relatively free communal life. Jews are allowed to travel to Israel and practice Judaism. For about 20 years, American Jewish groups have sent humanitarian missions to Cuba, stocking them with kosher goods, medical supplies and technological equipment.

Alan Gross traveled to Cuba on the same flights as some of these groups while undertaking his USAID work. He told Cuban officials that he was on a Jewish humanitarian mission. He also asked some American Jews to carry equipment into the country for him.

Gross’s supporters say he was just trying to provide Internet access for the Cuban-Jewish community. But Cuban Jews have had intranet and Internet access for several years.

Most of the equipment Gross took into the country, such as smartphones and laptops, is commonly available. But when he was arrested in 2009 he was carrying rare high-tech satellite equipment that is most often used by the CIA and the Defense Department.

The technology would have allowed users to access the Internet without being monitored by the Cuban government.

Gross was convicted last year of attempting to subvert or overthrow the government of Cuba. But the U.S. government and Gross’s supporters maintain his innocence.

William Ostick, a State Department spokesman, told the Forward that Gross was “unjustly imprisoned.”

“I won’t argue the complexities of the Cuban legal system, but he was convicted for activity that in any other country would be perfectly legitimate,” Ostick said. “He was helping connect citizens of Cuba with the outside world.”

Ostick condemned the Cuban laws under which Gross was convicted as “antithetical to international standards of human rights.”

Observers are baffled as to why the United States would want to equip Cuba’s Jewish community with material under a USAID program that usually targets dissidents. They say the Jewish community has good relations with the Cuban government and is too small and lacking in influence to be worth the investment.

Julia Sweig, a Latin America specialist for the Council on Foreign Relations, said USAID’s Cuban budget, which totaled $20 million last year, was like a “big trough.” Sweig said it was possible that Gross’s mission was useful only in as much as it satisfied Congressional demand to take action in Cuba.

With a November election looming, Sweig and other analysts say it is unlikely that the Obama administration will be able to make any overtures toward the Cuban regime.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.