Alan Gross, imprisoned by Cuba, left behind by Obama
An American citizen has been unjustly imprisoned by the communist government of Cuba for over four years. He has lost over 100 lbs, according to his wife, and has pleaded for the U.S. government to come to his aid. He suffers depression as his days consist of being locked in a small cell with two other inmates in a military prison.
His crime? Alan Gross dared to hand out satellite phones to Cubans whose government prevents them from having significant contact with the outside world. The Obama administration’s failure to secure Gross’s release is unacceptable. The American people should demand the State Department take immediate action to bring this man home.
Gross, a subcontractor working in Cuba on satellite-based internet connections, was arrested in 2009 and held for more than a year before he was charged with illegally distributing satellite communications to Cuban dissidents. In 2011, he was sentenced to a 15 year prison term.
For four years, the Obama administration has failed to significantly address the situation. Secretary of State John Kerry said this past December that the State Department was working on the matter through unofficial channels. The State Department released a statement which read: “We reiterate our call on the Cuban government, echoing foreign leaders and even Cuba’s allies, to release Alan Gross immediately and unconditionally.” To Judy Gross, Alan’s wife, it was more empty lip service. “This is something that I’ve heard for four years. It hasn’t changed,” she said in response to the statement.
Judy Gross has urged President Obama to personally involve himself in the matter. The fact that Obama has remained silent on Gross’s imprisonment is bewildering. An oppressive government that is openly hostile to the U.S. has held an American citizen in unfit conditions for over four years. He was convicted of the crime of providing oppressed people a means of communication. In America, free speech and open communication are taken for granted. In Cuba, where the government takes great care to hamper their citizen’s ability to freely communicate with and receive information from the outside world, such actions are seen as open subversion. President Obama ought to directly involve himself and demand the expedient release of this man whose only crime was empowering the people of Cuba.
In January, Kerry unsuccessfully appealed to the Vatican to exert its influence over Cuba in order to free Gross. Cuban officials, however, have repeatedly stated that they wish to speak to an American envoy concerning the matter. Despite attempts by legislators and other U.S. representatives to secure Gross’s release, and appeals to outside forces such as the Vatican, the president has not commissioned an official envoy to Cuba.
Overall, the handling of this situation by the Obama administration has been derelict and irresponsible. Not only is Obama leaving an American to be held in poor conditions by a hostile government, he is setting a dangerous precedent. As Gross pointed out in his last letter, countless Americans are currently serving in foreign lands. They should be able to trust that the American government will defend them if they are ever detained by hostile foreign regimes.
In his last statement, Gross urged that his case not be treated as a single concern. “There are countless Americans all over the world, some serving in uniform, others serving in diplomatic or civilian capacities, still others private citizens studying or traveling abroad, and they must not harbor any doubt that if they are taken captive in a foreign land, our government will move heaven and earth to secure their freedom,” he wrote.
Gross’s continued imprisonment should be intolerable to Americans. If the Obama administration won’t take the necessary action, the American people need to demand it of him. The world should be clear: America does not leave our own behind.
Keith Farrell is an Young Voices Advocate, a writer for The Libertarian Republic and the founder and president of Spirits of ’76 national nonprofit organization.