Alan Gross did not warn his family he was launching a hunger strike, but hearing the news, they understood why: The U.S. government subcontractor languishing in a Cuban prison feels forgotten.
Gross, a 64-year-old Jewish father of two from Potomac, Md., is currently serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for “crimes against the state.” He was arrested in December 2009 while on a mission to hook up Cuba’s small Jewish community with the Internet. The company he was working for had a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“We’re asking that the U.S. government do whatever it takes,” Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the Gross family, told JTA in an April 11 interview, the day Gross ended his fast after eight days. “This situation is not going to be resolved unless President Obama takes a personal interest in it.”
The intervention of his mother, Evelyn Gross, who turned 92 on Tuesday, led Gross to quit his hunger strike. In a statement, Gross said he was fed up with the approach of both Cuba and the United States.
“My protest fast is suspended as of today, although there will be further protests to come,” Gross said in a statement. “There will be no cause for further intense protest when both governments show more concern for human beings and less malice and derision toward each other.”
Efforts to win Gross’ release have faced diplomatic and political obstacles. Cuba wants the release of its citizens who have been convicted of espionage, while anti-communist Cuban-Americans have been resistant to compromise.
It all leaves Gross and his advocates feeling ignored and seeking new ways of finding attention. Increasingly, Jewish groups have been criticizing the U.S. government’s handling of Gross’ case.
Quoting from the statement by Gross announcing his hunger strike, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella body for U.S. Jewish groups, issued a similar pox-on-both-houses admonition.
“We believe that his case has not been given the urgent attention it warrants,” said the statement signed by Malcolm Hoenlein, the body’s executive vice president, and Robert Sugarman, its chairman. “The U.S. government has a special responsibility to Mr. Gross who is fasting to ‘object to mistruths, deceptions and inaction by the governments …’ and to call attention to ‘the lack of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal.’ ”
He launched his hunger strike on April 3, leaving a message with his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, the next day.