Sen. Ben Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen are ratcheting up the pressure on the Cuban government to release Alan Gross, a Potomac man sentenced earlier this year to a 15-year jail term in Cuba for spying.
Gross was working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Cuba when he was arrested in 2009.
Cardin and Van Hollen both plan to make statements on the floors of the Senate and House respectively this week, noting Gross's deteriorating physical condition. Van Hollen is expected to say Cuba’s chances of improved relations with the U.S. hinge on his immediate release.
Judy Gross has been campaigning strongly for her husband’s release for nearly two years and is increasing her efforts based on recent phone calls and visits with him. Saturday, Dec. 3, marks the two-year anniversary of Gross’ arrest at the Havana Airport in 2009.
Judy Gross told the Jerusalem Post early this week that she is working on many levels to make certain the case gets international attention. One aspect of this effort involves weekly vigils by national Jewish leaders protesting Gross’ arrest in front of the Cuban Interests Section on 16th Street in downtown DC.
“Our goal is to make him a household name so that people know what is going on there so that there will be more outrage,” she told Israel’s English language newspaper.
Judy Gross flew to Cuba in early November and discovered that her husband was worse off than ever, nearly immobilized by severe arthritis, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“I am calling on the Cuban government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Gross,” Rep. Van Hollen said in a statement. “He has been held for two years and he should be allowed to return to his family. This extraordinary miscarriage of justice must end without delay.”
Rep. Van Hollen and 72 members of the House of Representatives Thursday sent a letter to the Cuban government demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Gross. Van Hollen said Gross has dedicated his life to “humanitarian assistance.”
Earlier this month, Sen. Cardin raised the issue at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to confirm Roberta Jacobson as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
“For nearly two years the Cuban government has held Alan Gross under horrible terms and conditions violating his human rights and twisting the rule of laws to suit their own needs,” Cardin said at the hearing.
“Mr. Gross should be immediately released so he can return home,” he added. “It’s time to elevate this issue for action by the highest levels of U.S. diplomats.”
“Be assured that I and others in positions of authority will continue to spread news of Alan Gross’ imprisonment and let the world know how Cuba is violating the rights of an individual American,” Cardin asserted.
Earlier this year, Van Hollen cited U.S. government reports stating that Gross was in Cuba as part of a US-AID contract to improve communication among Cuban Jews within and outside the country.
“After visiting the island on numerous occasions without incident, Mr. Gross was detained by Cuban authorities as he prepared to return to the United States," the 8th District Representative said in March.
Despite strong protests by members of Congress and others, the Cuban government still refuses to release the 62-year-old Gross, he added.
Gross pointed to the recent swap of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for more than 1,000 Palestinians and suggested that the U.S. and Cuba could do a similar deal for him and the ‘Cuban five’, now in federal detention in Miami.