By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES — The attorney of US agent Alan Gross, the USAID subcontractor serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for national security violations, said Tuesday that his client would continue his hunger strike “as long as necessary.”
Gross, 64, has already lost 10 pounds since April 3 when he went on a water-only diet to draw attention to his virtual abandonment by the Obama administration. The once hefty communications equipment installer had already lost 100 pounds during his first four+ years in jail, said his wife Judy.
While the fate of Gross remains uncertain, the government controlled Cuban media has thus far completely ignored the hunger strike, allowing the foreign press to do the reporting without comment.
One issue that could enter into the scenario relatively soon would be whether the Cubans would be willing to let Gross’s health deteriorate significantly or force feed him to avoid the possibility of serious complications or death
The US military force feeds its prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on the other side of the island. The naval base is located on occupied Cuban territory.
Desperation came with revelations of the USAID Cuban Twitter scheme
The announcement of the fasting came on the same day that USAID director Rajiv Shah was questioned by a US Senate and House subcommittee on the secret Zunzuneo program to create a false Cuban Twitter network to improve communication between residents on the island and foment opposition against the government.
Gross, said his lawyer, confessed that Zunzuneo was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, after learning of the USAID program the previous week, noted Café Fuerte.
Attorney Scott Gilbert said that after Alan was arrested “it is striking that USAID would risk even more security by an undercover operation in Cuba.”
At the Congressional subcommittee hearing USAID chief Rajiv Shah justified the Zunzuneo program as “discreet but not covert” [in terms of US law]. He did not mention or seem concerned whether his program and agents had violated Cuban laws.
Meanwhile Gross and his family feel abandoned by the US government despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s assurance that the administration is “deeply involved in the case” in trying to get Alan released.
On her Facebook page Judy Gross posted yesterday:
“Secretary Kerry is now proposing to swap Jonathan Pollard in order for the Israeli peace negotiations to continue. More than likely freeing Palestinian prisoners will be part of deal as well. Alan Gross is not a spy, and was working for the US Government. He still rots in a jail cell in Cuba. Come on Secretary Kerry, are you still so worried about Menendez, Rubio and Ros-Lethinan that you can’t make a simple swap for the now Cuban 3 and Alan Gross? It’s OK with you to free killers with so much blood on their hands? The Cuban 3 don’t come close to the crimes of the Palestinians and never had a fair trial to begin with.”
While ignoring the hunger strike, the Cuban media has given ample coverage to the revelations of the Zunzuneo scheme to promote subversion on the island, including coverage of the congressional subcommittee hearing.
The following, courtesy of alongthemalecon.blogspot.com, are fragments of the exchange Tuesday between Senator Patrick Leahey and USAID director Rajiv Shah, where Shah said he was unaware who created the false Cuban twitter program implemented by his agency.
Who created ZunZuneo? USAID chief doesn’t know
In a heated exchange with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy on Tuesday, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said he didn’t know who came up with the idea for the ZunZuneo project in Cuba.
Leahy had pressed Shah. “Who’s idea was it?” he demanded during a budget hearing in Washington, D.C. Shah tried to avoid the question and referred to his talking points. Leahy cut him off repeatedly.
“It’s a simple question,” said the senator, raising his voice. Finally, Shah said, “I do not, specifically.”
Asked if ZunZuneo was a covert operation, Shah replied, “Absolutely not.” He said the project was included in the agency’s congressional budget justification, which indicated USAID was pursuing programs to increase the free flow of information to Cuba using new digital methods.
Leahy said there was so much “bureaucratese” in the budget justification, it would be impossible for anyone to know that a program such as ZunZuneo existed.
Shah denied claims in an Associated Press investigation that claimed there was money set aside for a Pakistan program that diverted to Cuba instead. And he said there was no Spanish shell company involved, as the AP had reported.
He referred to the program as “discreet,” not covert. “We did not advertise that this was a U.S. program,” he said.
Leahy also pressed Shah to tell him what he has done to try to secure the release of American development worker Alan Gross, who has been jailed in Cuba since December 2009.
“Have you done anything specifically, personally to get him home?”
Shah replied, “I have, sir.” He added, “We think about him all the time. I think about Alan every day.”
However, Shah said he could not talk publicly about what he’s done. He added that the State Department, not USAID, has primary responsibility for trying to free Gross.