Posted on Sunday, 11.07.10
Jailed husband a pawn in U.S.-Cuba standoff
By JUDITH E. GROSS
It is hard to believe that the case of a 61-year-old American Jew and
Cuban music aficionado may hold the key to the future of U.S.-Cuba
I am not a foreign affairs expert, but I have learned recently that when
it comes to the decades-old impasse between Washington and Havana,
nothing should surprise us.
My husband, Alan P. Gross, was arrested in Cuba on Dec. 3, 2009, for
bringing satellite equipment to the Jewish community. Almost a year
later, our family — and, for that matter, the U.S. government — has no
clarity as to the legal process he will face, if any, or its timing.
The Cuban government has accused Alan of many things, but has yet to
charge him with a crime. We need Alan home.
As I was able to painfully confirm during a recent visit to Havana,
Alan's incarceration has taken an enormous toll on his physical and
emotional health. He has lost almost 90 pounds, has developed disc
problems that may result in permanent partial paralysis, has severe
arthritis pain in his hips, and has had several bouts of gout. But now,
his emotional suffering is worse than any physical pain.
Upon learning of our 26-year-old daughter's breast cancer diagnosis,
Alan has been consumed with anguish and a desperate yearning to be home
by her side. In an Aug. 7 letter that was submitted to Cuban President
Raúl Castro, Alan wrote, "If the Government of Cuba does not recognize
this desperate humanitarian need, then perhaps it would release me on
the good faith that I would return to Cuba at the first possible moment
in order to conclude my case."
Alan's offer may sound laughable to most, but I know it to be sincere.
After all, this is the man who, in an unlikely duo with one of his
captors, plays Guantanamera on a harmonica. He is the man who, while
incarcerated in Cuba, has drafted an economic recovery plan for the
Cuban people. Those of us who know Alan well know of his love for Cuba,
especially its music and people.
In an October letter, Alan wrote to me: "I keep thinking about the late
1960s when we had our own spirit of revolution, how idealistic we were.
I am happy that I was able to maintain my idealism, which is why — I
suppose — I remained active in international development for so many
years while my work acquaintances became younger and younger.
"Despite my circumstances and my Cuban experience, I do not hate Cubans
— I only hate what is happening to me."
Before this fateful trip, Alan had visited Cuba several times and never
been in trouble. When Alan arrived in Havana, he declared to the Customs
authorities what he was bringing into the country. Alan's only wish was
to help Cuba's tiny Jewish community gain access to the Internet so that
they could be in touch with each other and with Jews around the world.
Bringing people together is what Alan has done best over the past 25
years as a development worker in more than 50 countries.
It is clear to me that Alan is being held as a political pawn by two
governments that refuse to change course in the way they relate to each
other. I can understand Havana's distaste for U.S. measures it considers
interference in its internal affairs, but I can also appreciate the
notion that the ability to communicate with one another is a basic human
For my family, however, it has been 11 months since Alan was put in
prison and two months that my daughter has been without her father while
battling cancer. For me, this is personal; it's not about politics.
Enough is enough. We need Alan home now, and he needs us. Our family
should not pay the price for more than 50 years of turmoil in U.S.-Cuba
This is my plea to Presidents Obama and Castro: Be different from your
predecessors, change the tide of bilateral relations. I call on
President Obama, in whom my husband believes so much, to not forget his
pledge of a "new beginning" in relations with Cuba. And I call on
President Castro to continue working on improving Cuba's human rights
record. To both, I beg: Do not make Alan's case an excuse to fall
further apart, but rather an example of a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations.
The author is a group therapist in the psychiatric department of a
Washington-area hospital. She and Alan P. Gross celebrated their 40th
anniversary in July.