Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Alan Gross calls for help (Updated)

Jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross announced that he has begun a hunger strike, blaming both governments for his predicament and calling for President Obama to work for his release. 

If his move is prompted by reports that the United States is considering the release of the spy Jonathan Pollard to encourage Israel-Palestine peace talks and, separately, five Taliban prisoners to obtain the release of one U.S. soldier, one can hardly blame him.

Here is the statement announcing the hunger strike, released by the firm SKD Knickerbocker, including an afternoon update at the top:

For Immediate Release
April 8, 2014

Update on Alan Gross

From prison in Havana, Alan Gross spoke to his attorney, Scott Gilbert, on Tuesday afternoon. Gross said that he ate his last solid food on Wednesday evening, April 2nd.

On Thursday, April 3rd, he said he learned about USAID’s ZunZuneo program. Alan said the “Cuban twitter” effort “was the final straw for him” and prompted his decision to go on a hunger strike.

He has not eaten since, though he is drinking water. So far, he has lost about 10 pounds.

“When I asked him how long he planned to continue the hunger strike,” said Gilbert, “he said, ‘as long as it takes.’”

Gross has been imprisoned in Cuba for four years and four months. He has asked President Obama to personally intervene to help bring him home.


For Immediate Release
April 8, 2014

USAID Contractor Alan Gross Begins Hunger Strike
From Havana Prison Calls for Resolution of "Shameful Ordeal"

Washington, D.C. - Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor imprisoned in Cuba for the last four years and four months, launched a hunger strike last week protesting the inhumane treatment to which he has been subjected, calling on both countries to "resolve this shameful ordeal" so he can return home.

Said Gross: "I began a fast on April 3rd in protest of the treatment to which I am subjected by the governments of Cuba and the United States.  I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions, and inaction by both governments, not only regarding their shared responsibility for my arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal. Once again, I am calling on President Obama to get personally involved in ending this stand-off so that I can return home to my wife and daughters."

Last week, the Associated Press revealed that USAID created a "Cuban Twitter" program called ZunZuneo shortly after Gross was arrested in Havana. During an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds USAID, called the program "dumb" and said that covert operations should not be conducted through USAID. USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah will testify today before Leahy's subcommittee.

Scott Gilbert, the lead attorney representing Gross, said that USAID's actions with ZunZuneo put Gross's life in greater jeopardy.

"Once Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety even further by running a covert operation in Cuba," said Gilbert. "USAID has made one absurdly bad decision after another.  Running this program is contrary to everything we have been told by high-level representatives of the Obama Administration about USAID’s activities in Cuba.”

Since Gross, 64, was arrested and imprisoned, he has lost more than 110 pounds. He is confined to a small cell with two other prisoners for 23 hours a day, and the lights remain on 24 hours a day. He is in failing health. He faces another 11 years in prison.

Gross was arrested during his fifth trip to Cuba on behalf of USAID. He was sent there to help the Jewish community in Havana gain access to the Internet, which the Cuban government declared unlawful.

Gross's wife, Judy, said she fears that her husband will not be able to endure his confinement much longer. "I've been begging our government for more than four years to bring Alan home," said Judy Gross. "I'm worried sick about Alan's health, and I don't think he can survive much more of this."

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