Will Cuba and Obama Let Alan Gross Die?

Alan Gross (c) with his wife Judy and lawyer Scott Gilbert. Photo taken in Nov. 2013.
Alan Gross (c) with his wife Judy and lawyer Scott Gilbert. Photo taken in Nov. 2013.

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

Rajiv Shah, left, and Patrick J. Leahy.  Photos: alongthemalecon.blogspot.com
Rajiv Shah, left, and Patrick J. Leahy. Photos: alongthemalecon.blogspot.com

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.


33 thoughts on “Will Cuba and Obama Let Alan Gross Die?

  • December 17, 2014 at 11:46 am
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    Well, we got the answer today! He’s HOME!

  • April 17, 2014 at 4:14 am
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    All I know is that when you made the claim of hiding their actions I went to the site and found what I posted. I have no reason to think it wasn’t there all along.

    I didn’t say widely publicized is the definition of overt. I do say that what is widely publicized and known to local authorities – as is the case in Cuba – is far from covert. When referring to Cuba: yes, dissidents that receive aid – from any source – can go to jail. Even those that don’t go to jail and are accused of being “agents”. Cleared checks of dissidents have been posted by the regime. US diplomats are followed. All very in the open and far from covert.

    The program Alan Gross was working on was to improve the communication and information of the Jewish community. That tiny community is not known for being at the vanguard of the dissident movement. I don’t know any dissident that is Jewish. All your speculation on double agents and other “spooky” theories are pure speculation. People that worked with Alan Gross have been identified and spoke to Jewish visitors. The one fact that is beyond any speculation is that nobody else was charged or convicted even after the regime was aware of his activities for years. If he had been in touch with “subversives” that would have been noticed long ago. In the end Alan Gross only proven crime was that customs violation. Your claim that he is “guilty by association” with USAID is ludicrous. Anyone not involved in any illegal activity should not be sentenced even if he or she is associated with USAID. In your view a man handing out food sent by USAID would be liable for arrest as a “spy”. All you can produce are feeble excuses in an attempt to execuse that what is un-excusable: the 15 year sentence of Alan Gross for a customs violation. Alan Gross was clearly arrested to blackmail the US in to freeing the Cuban spies held in Florida.

    As to your question about the mobile phones: in the trial it was clear that – with the exception of the one chip in one piece of equipment – no other illegal was handed out. Furthermore: it was Alan Gross that had that piece of equipment and he might just have had that in a misguided attempt to have a sure way of communicating for himself. Stupid maybe, but no crime worth 15 years.
    ell phone
    An interesting analogy: a number of years ago, when phone with GPS capability were very rare, my wife and I and some friends went to Cuba. Three of us had a cellphone with GPS capabilities. At that time bringing in GPS devices was illegal in Cuba. We also carried USB sticks, computer parts and an old portable as gifts.
    At that time importing GPS devices to Cuba was illegal. Should the three of us have been jailed?

  • April 16, 2014 at 3:23 pm
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    When I went on the site some months ago the information wasn’t there. I have supplied the evidence that they haven’t updated the map which points to it being a recent change. Without a time machine I can’t prove it.

    Your definition of overt as widely publicized is nonsense. It is well known that the CIA spies on Russian military installations, European leaders and tries to infiltrate jihadist groups. Everyone is well aware of this but it doesn’t make them overt actions. Dissidents who receive money from USAID are in danger of imprisonment, hence they can’t be funded except by covert means.

    Alan Gross was convicted of a custom violation WITH the intention of furthering the (illegal) USAID democratisation program. The intention is fundamental here. Taking a knife through customs is different if your intention is murder from if you just intend to cut your food. If he was an innocent tourist who had unwittingly taken an illegal item through customs then yes, you would expect confiscation, a fine and deportation.

    I’m not sure why no one else has been convicted as part of this operation. The Jewish community say they didn’t know of Alan Gross. Perhaps the people he handed out the equipment to were double-agents, perhaps they were unaware of the US program (like the users of the Cuban twitter) or perhaps they haven’t been found. They didn’t need to convict him of anything else. The customs violation and involvement in the USAID program was enough.

    You still haven’t explained why he didn’t just buy ordinary mobile phones if he was simply trying to get people connected.

  • April 16, 2014 at 6:53 am
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    Please post your proof that the data on Cuba hasn’t been there all along. I just see it as an easy excuse.
    Note that actions are overt when widely publicized.
    Anyone in the free world can see them.
    The Cuban regime is very well aware of all of the actions of USAID in Cuba. Help to dissidents out of work or in jail, support to civil society and information aid are all known to the Cuban regime and even used as an excuse to claim the dissidents are agents. How can anything that is even in Cuba’s newspapers be “covert”?
    As far as Alan Gross goes:
    – Jewish groups aren’t illegal in Cuba
    – Freemasons aren’t illegal in Cuba
    – no proof was ever offered of ANY “anti-government activity by Alan Gross or any of the people he worked with
    – NOBODY that Alan Gross worked with was taken to court for any form of anti-government activity.
    – the regime – as it stated itself – was aware of his activities for years.
    The proof is in what the Cuban regime stated in his trial. You are inventing “crimes” the Cuban regime didn’t see.
    the fact he was convicted of a customs violation only means everything: they had nothing else. The Cuban regime used this minor violation – normally sanctioned with confiscation, a fine and deportation – to get a “bargaining chip” to blackmail the US government in to releasing the spies.

  • April 14, 2014 at 1:07 pm
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    So, now spies are terrorists.. let me think.. nope. Spies trade on information obtained illicitly, you caught them with their hands in the cookie jar, you put them behind bars for breaking whatever laws they broke, but thats nowhere close to terrorism.

    Besides, didn’t the US negotiated an spy exchange with Russia a while ago? If that is ok, why doing the same with Cuba is bad?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/09/AR2010070901956.html

  • April 14, 2014 at 11:06 am
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    USAID have recently updated their website to include their missions in Cuba. If you check the map under the section “Where we work” you will see that they haven’t remembered to place the Cuban flag. The fact that they admit to covert actions doesn’t make them overt. An overt action would be a legal activity with the agreement of the Cuban government.
    The proof is that he was working as part of an illegal program that involved other groups such as freemasons. He wasn’t distributing normal mobile phones, but ones that were untraceable. As I said before he could have bought normal mobile phones locally. Don’t try and pretend that he was an innocent tourist trying to be helpful.
    With the US terms like democratisation and civil society are euphemisms for regime change and installation of a compliant president. They use the same terms in countries like Venezuela. Search out wikileaks and the 5 point plan to bring down Chavez.
    The fact that he was only convicted of customs violation means nothing. The fact that no one else was arrested proves nothing either except the fact that the mission was a complete failure.

  • April 14, 2014 at 2:42 am
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    USAID is indeed a US government agency that supplies aid in various forms to lots of countries.It has widely publicized and open projects in Cuba. They are even publicized on their website:
    – “USAID provides on-going humanitarian support to political prisoners and their families, which are often systematically marginalized by the security forces and unable to work.”
    – “USAID supports independent civic, social, and development activities by providing technical and material assistance to organize, train, and energize small groups of people within their communities.”
    -“USAID provides basic news and information about issues relevant to Cubans from inside Cuba and around the world.”
    For more see:http://www.usaid.gov/cuba/our-work

    All nicely in the open on their website and all well known to the Castro regime.So not all their work is covert as you falsely claim.

    The laptops sold in Cuba are crappy by the way. As long as they are imported in a correct way handing them out, as Gross did, is no crime. In his trial they only “crime” that was proven was that he had a chip he needed to have declared on arrival.
    Post your proof he was involved in anything else than civil society projects like supporting the Jewish community. The regime admitted in the trial they were aware of what he was doing.
    Thank you for confirming that the Cuban regime is anti-democratic and that any support for civil society is seen as a threat by it.
    But we agree that he was not a spy. Objectively no other “crime” was proven than the customs violation. No proof of any “regime change” activity was ever provided. If handing over a laptop or a WiFi makes you at risk for 15 years of jail thousands of visitors to Cuba could go to jail.
    The bottom line is: beyond not declaring the chip no other crimes were proven. The best proof is that nobody else was arrested.

  • April 13, 2014 at 12:38 pm
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    I have said this all before. USAID is a US government agency and doesn’t have open/official operations in Cuba. All their work in the country is covert. Alan Gross could have easily bought a few laptops and mobile phones on Calle Obisbo if all he was up to was helping connectivity to the Jewish community. There is plenty of evidence to support the fact that he was involved in the democracy programs (ie regime change) of the US government. Not a spy in the definition above, but not just a “custom violation” or hapless charity worker.

  • April 12, 2014 at 4:30 pm
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    A tortured fantasy. It is your handlers that operate a totalitarian regime.

  • April 12, 2014 at 2:40 am
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    Even Raul Castro admitted to US senators that Alan Gross was no spy.

    Definition: “a person employed by a government or other organization to secretly obtain information on an enemy or competitor”

    Alan Gross was not trying to obtain any information and wasn’t operating secretly. His actions were known to the Cuban government for years before they arrested him.
    The only “illegal action” that was proven against Alan Gross is that he was in possession of a type of microchip that – while legal to enter – had to be declared upon entry to Cuba and hadn’t been. In essence a custom violation.
    No proof was ever given that any of the work he did resulted in any illegal activity by its end users.
    The Cuban entered the US covertly or were recruited covertly. They spied on military installations, US companies, US NGO’s, and individuals residing in the USA with the sole purpose to provide this information to the Cuban regime. The shooting down of two unarmed planes over international waters is one result of the spying.
    While indeed Alan Gross has never been shown to have damaged in any way Cuba, the actions of the Cuban spies resulted in 4 people dead. Their attempt to infiltrates Soutcom and their tracking of the movements of military planes show their intent to damage the USA.

  • April 11, 2014 at 1:49 pm
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    It depends on your definition of spy. Both the Cuban 3 and Alan Gross were government agents involved in illegal actions in a hostile country. None is totally innocent, but also neither was significantly damaging to the other country.

  • April 11, 2014 at 10:18 am
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    That “tinpot dictatorship” is still alive and well after 54 years of the U.S. attempting to crush it .
    The Cubans are willing to make HUMANE prisoner exchanges.
    The GOUSA doesn’t care about the people it uses to fuck the rest of the world .
    Imperialism and those who support it HAVE to be mean-spirited mother-fuckers..

  • April 11, 2014 at 10:14 am
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    SFB,
    The Cuban “spy” network’s mission was to prevent the terrorist attacks coming from the U.S. or prepare for them .
    The U.S. government, in allowing these flights and other often terrorist missions to be launched from Florida , is certainly a terrorist state or a state that backs terrorism .
    The Cubans are DEFENDING themselves against this terrorism .
    That you cannot understand the difference speaks to your WILLFUL historical ignorance of U.S. foreign policy objectives and strategies.
    As Upton Sinclair said a long time ago :
    ” It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him NOT understanding it”
    You don’t understand the situation because you do not want to.

  • April 11, 2014 at 7:05 am
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    Indeed: the spies – as confirmed by their accomplices – were released after completing their sentences and one even during parole with some time left on his sentence.

    If Cuba were to react in reciprocity it would expel Alan Gross as he is only guilty of a customs violation. Raul Castro himself said he was no spy. Not ONE instance of his actions leading to subversion was documented. Not ONE “accomplice” was arrested or tried.
    In the US 13-14 people of the “red avispa” were arrested and ample proof was provided of spying on military installations (see the Gari case).

    This is pure blackmail.

  • April 11, 2014 at 7:00 am
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    Because any US citizen going in to Cuba would become a possible hostage.
    One trades spies. not 3 spies for one person that has violated customs regulations.
    No “trade” there, just blackmail

  • April 11, 2014 at 6:37 am
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    In the other areas you mention, cooperation is mutually beneficial AND both sides engage in this cooperation without pressure or coercion. Spies for hostage trade is a different issue. Cuba should unilaterally release Mr. Gross on humanitarian grounds and use the groundswell of positive public relations to force the US to respond accordingly.

  • April 10, 2014 at 10:24 am
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    ahem….you mean the red avispa network with over a dozen spies. And please tell us again how many “terrorists” were at Boca Chica Naval Air Station, or South Comm?

  • April 10, 2014 at 4:43 am
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    But that is hypocritical. The US cooperates with the “tinpot dictatorship” on preventing terrorism and drug trafficking not to mention sending loads of Cubans back to Cuba to face more of the “tinpot dictatorship”. What dangerous precedent would be created that hasn’t been created many times already.

  • April 9, 2014 at 6:21 pm
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    WOW Circles! Gracias! NO CENSORSHIP of my posts!

  • April 9, 2014 at 3:36 pm
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    Launched from the SAME agency that sent Gross to Cuba? That screams “SCREW GROSS” loud and clear. Face it, USAID (and by extension, the US government) just threw Gross under the bus and counted him as an expended pawn in a larger game, thats all.

    The point that you missed is not about Gross initiative as the only active program to destabilize Cuba (to think that is so naive that it falls into the stupid realm), but about the US government claim that they cared about Gross fate.

    Bottom line is that thy don’t. At all, as proven in the ZunZuneo disclosure beyond reasonable doubt.

    Gross defense has always been to play dumb and assert that he was either mistaken or ill informed, but that there was no nefarious intent in his actions. A covert (err.. veerrry discrete) program from the SAME agency that recruited Gross with the EXPLICIT intent to destabilize the Cuban government by using the kind of technology that Gross was helping to implement is a confirmation that Gross was indeed part of a US sponsored conspiracy against the Cuban government.

  • April 9, 2014 at 2:47 pm
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    Why can’t Obama accept the blackmail? The US used to trade spies on a regular basis with the Soviet Union. Other countries like Israel trade people all the time. The prisoners on both side have already been punished enough and deserve to go home.

  • April 9, 2014 at 2:40 pm
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    Circles! Why do you and others call them “The Cuban 5” when there were a total of 14 of these “operatives”??
    Five
    members of a 14-member espionage team called “La Red Avispa” — the Wasp
    Network — are on trial in a Miami federal courtroom following an
    exhaustive FBI investigation
    http://www.wnd.com/2001/01/7761/

  • April 9, 2014 at 2:31 pm
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    Why has the Castro “government” refused to allow any international journalist to interview Alan Gross? What are they hiding?

    NBC NEWS: American jailed in Cuba wants US to sign ‘non-belligerency pact’
    to speed release – By Michael Isikoff

    Kornbluh, who has advocated closer U.S.-Cuba dialogue, was in Havana last
    week to attend a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile
    crisis. He was granted permission to visit Gross by Cuban officials. (The Cubans
    so far have denied all news media requests to meet with him.)

    http://openchannel.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/12/02/15620342-american-jailed-in-cuba-wants-us-to-sign-non-belligerency-pact-to-speed-release?lite

  • April 9, 2014 at 2:15 pm
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    CUBAQUS is not only serious, he is absolutely correct. Allowing tinpot dictatorships to countermand the US decision to not negotiate with terrorists would set disastrous precedent.

  • April 9, 2014 at 2:14 pm
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    The two Cuban spies were released AFTER serving their full sentence (15+ years). If Cuba were to act in reciprocity, Gross would rot in jail for 10 more years.

    The only way for his situation to change in the near future is the two countries sit and negotiate a mutually beneficial deal, and that involves talking about the remaining three spies.

    That is NOT blackmail, is simply the way the world works. Each party was found guilty and sentenced under the respective laws, now is either wait until each serve their sentence or sit and negotiate an early release.

  • April 9, 2014 at 1:56 pm
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    Two points….I did not miss the point. Launching the separate ZunZuneo internet project does not imply anything of the sort. It means there are multiple strategies in play at any given time. Some go bust, some don’t. You would be naïve to think EVERYTHING that the US has attempted in Cuba has failed. We just don’t hear about the successes. Second, I agree that the Castros need Gross alive. But in addition to his role as a ‘bargaining card’, his death could be just the martyrdom that Miami extremists have been waiting for to launch some crazy countermeasure. Keep in mind, that the same mindset that drives the megalomaniacal behavior of the Castros exists in their Miami nemesis.

  • April 9, 2014 at 1:46 pm
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    In the inimitable words of 70’s one-hit wonder Nick Lowe, sometimes you gotta’ be “Cruel to Be Kind”. I support the embargo. If it causes any measure of ‘suffering’ for the Cuban people, including my beautiful family, it is a small sacrifice in comparison to the far greater disaster wrought by the Castros upon their own people.

  • April 9, 2014 at 10:33 am
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    You can’t be serious.
    The Cuban Five were in the U.S. spying on the terrorist groups in Florida who were attacking or planning to attack Cuba .
    They were fighting U.S.-sponsored and approve TERRORISM yet you would depict them as mere spies.
    You look completely foolish in what you mean to imply.

  • April 9, 2014 at 10:32 am
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    Yeah, right.
    The United States was trying to develop democracy in Cuba and are certainly not to blame for trying to overthrow the Cuban government .
    If Gross dies in captivity, it certainly is what can be expected when you stupidly go into a country from the country that is trying to destroy it, are working for a U.S. government agency (USAID) that is know for its subversion of foreign governments and think you will not be observed and arrested.
    This is so patently stupid a plan that I almost think you had a hand in its planning .
    The “Castros” are to blame for the suffering of the Gross’s and you are partly to blame for the suffering of every man, woman and child in Cuba INCLUDING your relatives because of your unqualified support of the U.S. embargo .
    What’s it like living in a glass house ?

  • April 9, 2014 at 9:50 am
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    And as usual, you completely missed the point. The US government gave the go ahead to a project with the explicit goal to undermine the Cuban government right AFTER Gross was imprisoned, legitimizing the Cuban assertion that he was a spy.

    There is no buts or ifs, with the ZunZuneo fiasco gone public, the US government just demonstrated that they don’t care about Gross fate, thus the hunger strike.

    Also, don’t worry about Gross health, the Cuban authorities need him alive and kicking to use him as a bargain card, so they won’t allow things to go too far.

  • April 9, 2014 at 9:14 am
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    The fate of Alan Gross is in the hands of Raul Castro. Obama can not accept the blackmail for the simple reason that it opens the door to more.
    Two Cuban spies were released. Cuba did nothing.

  • April 9, 2014 at 9:13 am
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    Alan Gross was arrested by the Castro regime to blackmail the US government to release the 5 spies. The regime made a big mistake to think that the US would cave in. Now Alan Gross, a man whose “crime” was not to declare one chip and whose activities were known to the regime for 4 years, is a hostage of the Castro regime.

  • April 9, 2014 at 7:59 am
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    Mr. Gross is tragically caught in the middle. The US did not arrest or imprison Mr. Gross but as the headline implies, is assumed to bear some responsibility for his well-being. The Castros, on the other hand, singularly do have the power of life or death over Mr. Gross, yet have managed to parlay at least a portion of their blame on the US. The Castros, who typically win at propaganda, must ultimately be brought to task, should Mr. Gross die while being held hostage.

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