Gross still locked up in Cuba
HAVANA (AP) – Five years to the day after his arrest in Cuba on espionage charges, former United States contractor Alan Gross is threatening a hunger strike, refusing almost all visitors and predicting he will die in prison if he isn’t freed by his 66th birthday in May, relatives and backers said today.
It’s impossible to measure the gravity of Gross’ threat, but it’s clear he is essential to any detente between Cuba and the United States. His declarations have added to a sense that the next five months could be a closing window for the Obama administration and Cuba to move to normalise their relationship.
In his first term, Obama loosened restrictions on Cuban-American travel and money remittances to Cuba, and he has advocated further changes in his second. Now, with host Panama having invited President Raul Castro to become the first Cuban leader to attend the Summit of the Americas, an annual meeting of Western Hemisphere nations, many see the time leading up to the April 10-11 meeting as a time for any U.S. action on Cuba.
The U.S. keeps Cuba under economic embargo and lists it as a state sponsor of terrorism. U.S. prisons also still hold three of five Cuban intelligence agents given long prison sentences after being convicted for operations on American soil- a topic of constant, outraged commentary in state-controlled Cuban media.
Today, the White House called on Cuba to release Gross, with press secretary Josh Earnest saying in a press release that the U.S. remains “deeply concerned” about the American’s health.
Earnest said Gross’ release “would remove an impediment to more constructive relations” between the two countries.
Cuban officials have linked the fate of the agents to Gross, who was detained in December 2009 while setting up illegal Internet access as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.