When Alan Gross was released from a Cuban jail in December 2014, people would have forgiven him if all he wanted was to retire to his Maryland home for a quiet life with his wife, Judy. During his five years in captivity, he lost 100 pounds, considered committing suicide and missed saying goodbye to his mother, who died in January 2014 at the age of 92. Yet when Gross was released, he decided to use his newfound fame to join the growing political push to ease America’s business and travel restrictions on Cuba.
Gross, 66, was arrested in Havana in 2009 while working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Although Gross’s supporters claimed that he was doing nothing more than trying to improve internet services for Cuba’s tiny Jewish community, he was arrested in Havana carrying high-tech satellite equipment commissioned under a federal “democracy-building” program designed explicitly to undermine the Cuban government.
Gross has used his name recognition and press access to speak out on U.S.–Cuba relations. In testimony before Congress at the start of this year, he encouraged the lifting of restrictions on travel and trade between America and Cuba. He also starred as a speaker at a fundraiser for the New Cuba PAC, which promotes U.S.–Cuba travel and trade. Gross’s Twitter account provides a constant stream of encouragement for both sides. As Gross tweeted in August: “Let’s not forget that the failed policies went in both directions. It will take both governments to make it work.”