The wife of Alan Gross, a State Department subcontractor jailed in Cuba, has launched a new strategy to win his release: ratcheting up the pressure on the United States government as well as on the Cuban regime.
After fighting for months to persuade the organized Jewish community to rally behind a humanitarian campaign to free her husband, Judy Gross has begun to publicly criticize President Obama and U.S. policy toward Cuba.
Her new approach comes as the Jewish community and others are calling on Pope Benedict XVI to appeal to Cuban leader Raul Castro for the prisoner’s release during the pontiff’s three-day visit to Cuba, which begins on March 26.
But Judy Gross is now taking a dual-pronged approach in her advocacy. Along with humanitarian appeals to the Cuban government, she has voiced “disappointment” in Obama and compared her husband’s plight to that of Rene Gonzalez, a Cuban-American who, convicted of espionage and currently on probation in Florida, wishes to visit his dying brother in Cuba. (On March 19, a federal judge approved Gonzalez’s request over the objection of the Department of Justice.)
Some observers say that leaning on the United States may just be the most effective way for Judy Gross to secure her 62-year-old husband’s release.
“I was very pleasantly surprised to see the change in tactics, and hopefully a change in overall strategy from Judy,” said a Jewish official very familiar with ties between the United States and Cuba.
The American Jewish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to not jeopardize his group’s work, said that humanitarian appeals to the Cuban government were helpful. But Gross’s release would be secured only if both governments were pressured into bilateral negotiations.
“Anything short of that will not reap the results [Judy Gross is] looking for,” the official said.
Gross, a subcontractor to the State Department’s U.S. Agency for International Development, was arrested and jailed in 2009 while pursuing a USAID mission that involved smuggling high-tech communications equipment into Jewish community centers across the island. The Cuban-Jewish community, which enjoys emigration rights to Israel and frequent exchanges and visits with outside Jewish groups, disclaimed knowledge of or involvement in Gross’s mission. American Jewish groups have spearheaded humanitarian appeals to Cuba, where Gross is serving a 15-year sentence.
Gross’s supporters, including the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, recently launched a petition calling on the pope to raise Gross’s case with Castro during his upcoming visit.
Gonzalez, the Cuban whose treatment Judy Gross compared to her husband’s, is one of the so-called Cuban Five, who were arrested on spying charges during the late 1990s. He must serve out his three-year probation in Florida.
The Justice Department had opposed Gonzalez’s request to return home to visit his brother, who has terminal lung cancer, saying Gonzalez might link up with Cuban intelligence officials.
As Gonzalez waited for a response from U.S. officials, Gross’s lawyer, Peter Kahn, requested that his client be allowed to return to the United States for two weeks to visit his 89-year-old mother, who is also dying of cancer.
Judy Gross told The Miami Herald that she appreciated Gonzalez’s need to visit a dying relative. “We need to remember that these are real people and real lives that are profoundly affected by these decisions,” she said.