Alan Gross, the contractor from Potomac currently imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, has taken a major turn for the worse, according to Jill Zuckman, a spokeswoman for the family.
Gross, 65, “has said that he will kill himself if he is in prison much longer,” Zuckman said.
During a permitted visit this past July between Gross, wife Judy and daughter Nina, Gross was “saying goodbye,” said Judy Gross. “It was gut wrenching.”
Gross was a subcontractor for the State Department on a mission to hook up Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet when he was arrested as he was leaving Cuba. He is serving a 15-year sentence for “crimes against the state.”
In an interview with Washington Jewish Week, Judy Gross said: “I think he is hopeless.” During last month’s visit, she recalled that Gross said he no longer wanted any visitors.
“I’m hoping to talk to him about that,” she said. “You know it’s really up to him.
“He is depressed. I think he is hopeless,” she continued. “I think he thinks the State Department … is useless in terms of information. He gets nothing. He is very frustrated that no one is telling him anything.”
In a previous visit, she said, her husband still seemed hopeful about his release. But after Gross’ mother died this summer and his health deteriorated, “it’s not a pretty picture.” He is in chronic pain, has lost more than 100 pounds, has arthritis, a mass on his shoulder and has lost vision in his right eye, said his wife.
On Friday, Aug. 1, some 300 rabbis from across the Jewish denominations sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to take immediate action to secure Gross’ release. Baltimore-area signatories included Rabbis Avram Israel Reisner, Michael Meyerstein, Dr. Tsvi G. Schur, Amy Scheinerman, Donald R. Berlin and John Franken.
“Alan went to Cuba on behalf of our government,” the rabbis wrote. “His immediate release from prison in Cuba and return to the U.S. must be a priority for our nation. Indeed, we believe this is a moral imperative.
“Our communities are gravely concerned that Alan continues to languish in a Cuban prison nearly five years after his arrest,” the letter continued. “We ask, with all respect, that you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure a prompt end to Alan’s, and his family’s, continuing nightmare.”
Securing Alan Gross’ immediate release “remains a top priority of the United States, and his continued incarceration represents a significant impediment to a more constructive bilateral relationship between the United States and Cuba,” National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said when asked to respond to the rabbis’ letter, adding that Gross should be “released now.”
“We have urged governments around the world and prominent figures traveling to Cuba, including religious leaders, to press for Mr. Gross’ immediate release,” said Ventrell. “This includes President Obama asking Uruguayan President [Jose] Mujica to use any opportunity he might have to raise Alan Gross’ case directly with President [Raul] Castro.”
Ventrell concluded: “Alan Gross is an international development worker. He has been imprisoned by Cuban authorities … for doing nothing more than helping Cuban citizens gain access to the Internet.”