On April 20, jailed American Alan Gross used his weekly cell phone call to reach out to NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell. He made a desperate plea:
Get me the hell out of here.
NBC News reported the story, somehow identifying Alan Gross as Brian Gross in its online edition, an error that remained uncorrected more than a month later.
Mitchell said Gross told her:
I did nothing legally or morally wrong. I have no guilty conscience.
Gross wants to visit his 90-year-old mother, Evelyn, who has lung cancer. In November, she asked Raul Castro to release her son in a statement posted on YouTube video. She said:
I don’t know why he’s being held. I think it’s terrible he’s being held for no reason.
Alan Gross told Mitchell:
It is no longer about Cuban-U.S. relations. It’s about my family and me.
Columnist Douglas Bloomfield thinks it’s about more than Gross and his family. It’s about politics, Bloomfield wrote on April 24 in the Jewish Journal after visiting Cuba.
The Cubans have suggested a five-for-one swap, which under standards set by the Israeli government in exchanging a single prisoner for over a thousand terrorists, doesn’t seem like much. But the Cuban Five, who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes, are symbolically more important to both governments.
A swap for Gross would be popular in the Jewish community but not in the Cuban-American community, which rails against any deals with the “terrorist regime” in Havana, especially since it could mean handing the Castros a major propaganda victory.
Signs extolling the five as heroes are seen around Cuba and their giant size portraits are on the memorial to revolutionary hero Che Guevara.
And in this volatile political year, where Florida’s electoral votes could be decisive, a swap is highly unlikely.
Meanwhile, it seems unlikely the Cubans will send Alan Gross home any time soon. Like relations between the two countries, he is being held hostage to outmoded, counterproductive and politically motivated policies.
On April 14, Judy Gross asked the Cuban government to allow her husband to visit his mother before she dies. She said a federal judge allowed Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban Five, to return to Cuba to visit his brother, who is dying of cancer. Judy Gross wanted Cuba to reciprocate. She wrote:
Cuban authorities, in particular Castro, should demonstrate whether they are the humanitarian people they claim to be, seriously interested in reciprocity and honoring their words — or whether their words are empty rhetoric, intended all along to deceive.
ON April 16, Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, wrote:
…Judith Gross calls on the Cuban Government to allow her husband Alan, now a prisoner in Cuba convicted of actions “to destabilize Cuba’s constitutional order,” to return to the United States for two weeks to say farewell to his beloved mother, now near death with cancer.
Judith Gross correctly notes that her husband was not accused of being a spy. He had, however, violated Cuban law in a number of other ways. He was there distributing sophisticated communications equipment without a license, and not simply to members of the Jewish community. On the contrary, the leaders of that community have said they had nothing to do with Mr. Gross. Further, he was working on a contract for USAID, whose $20 million program in Cuba was authorized by a law calling for “regime change.”
All that aside, Ambassador Jorge Bolaños, the Chief of the Cuban Interests Section, in a letter to me on April 7, reiterated the Cuban government’s willingness to look for a humanitarian solution in this case on the basis of reciprocity.
He also said the Cuban government had conveyed to the U.S. government a proposal to jointly organize a trip to Cuba by Evelyn Gross, Alan’s mother, aboard a special flight with all necessary medical conditions available, including specialized medical personnel and all facilities so that she could visit her son Alan.
That the Cuban government is willing to help organize such a trip – at no small effort – is encouraging. It may be, however, that the mother is simply too ill to travel.
On April 30, Jewish community leaders in Washington, D.C., commemorated Gross’s 63rd birthday.
Gross has said he went to Cuba to help Cuban Jews connect to the Internet. On April 8, an online weekly called American Free Press published a post entitled, “Why do U.S. taxpayers subsidize Cuban Jews?” Michael Collins Piper wrote:
While Americans have been told for generations that their tax dollars may never provide funding for any religious group, that is precisely what Gross was doing for the Jews of Cuba.
Although Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtenin (R-Fla.)—of Jewish extraction—has been a loud champion of Gross’s cause, her office—pressed by AFP—was unable to explain why Gross’s actions were not un-Constitutional or why the Cuban Jews were receiving special treatment at U.S. taxpayer expense.