Friends and supporters of Alan Gross have long gotten used to bad news coming from his cell in a Cuban military hospital, where he is serving a 15-year sentence. Jailed since 2009 and sentenced for crimes against the Cuban state, the Potomac resident and U.S. Agency for International Development worker has been in poor health for several years.
Last week, we reported that Gross has become increasingly hopeless about his plight, perhaps suicidal. During an in-person visit last month between Gross, his wife Judy and daughter Nina, Gross was “saying goodbye,” according to his wife. “It was gut wrenching.”
We can’t confirm any of this. But it would be wrong to dismiss the report of “the gut-wrenching goodbye” as theatrics. Threats of suicide are often a cry for help, and Alan Gross has been calling for help from the U.S. government since the day the Cubans arrested him.
At least according to his family, Gross isn’t getting much help or support from the U.S. government. And they have been particularly critical of the State Department. Thus, according to Judy Gross, “I think he thinks the State Department … is useless in terms of information.” And she went on to say: “He gets nothing. He is very frustrated that no one is telling him anything.”
At the very least, the State Department should increase its communication with Gross to minimize his sense of isolation. Publicly, the government is saying the right things. For example, National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said last week that “we use every appropriate diplomatic channel to press for Mr. Gross’ release, both publicly and privately.”
But notwithstanding those comments, there is a palpable lack of urgency in the effort to win the release of a U.S. government contractor who was sent to Cuba, according to correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, with “no experience in semi-covert operations, no knowledge of Spanish and no particular training for this mission,” which reportedly was to deliver satellite Internet equipment to Cuban Jews.
In a recent letter to President Obama, 300 rabbis called securing Gross’ release a “moral imperative” for the United States. While so much about this case is unclear — was Gross indeed involved in espionage on behalf of the U.S. government, as Cuba claims? — the rabbis’ point is irrefutable. The United States must secure Alan Gross’ freedom now.