Three-hundred rabbis from across the United States on Monday asked President Barack Obama to negotiate with Havana to secure the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba on a conviction for subversion.
“Alan went to Cuba on behalf of our government. His immediate release from prison in Cuba and return to the U.S. must be a priority for our nation. Indeed, we believe this is a moral imperative,” the rabbis said in a letter to Obama.
Gross, now 65, traveled to Cuba on behalf of a Maryland company that won a contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to expand Internet access and the flow of information on the Communist-ruled island.
He was in possession of sophisticated communications gear when Cuban authorities arrested him in December 2009.
A Cuban court eventually convicted Gross, who is Jewish, on charges of illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion.
The U.S. government maintains that Gross was simply trying to provide uncensored access to the Internet for Cuban Jews.
“Our communities are gravely concerned that Alan continues to languish in a Cuban prison nearly five years after his arrest. We ask, with all respect, that you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure a prompt end to Alan’s, and his family’s, continuing nightmare,” the rabbis wrote to Obama.
During a recent visit of his wife, Judy, and his daughter, Nina, Gross said he couldn’t bear being in prison much longer and said goodbye to them, spokespersons of the family said.
Gross “has withdrawn,” his attorney, Scott Gilbert, said in a statement released Monday.
His client told him that “life in prison is not a life worth living,” Gilbert said.
Gross is confined to a small cell 24 hours a day and has lost most of the sight in his right eye, the lawyer said, adding that the prisoner can hardly walk and has abandoned any attempt to do exercise.
Judy Gross described her last visit to her husband as “traumatic” and said she has never seen Alan in such terrible condition.
Havana has suggested an exchange of Gross for three Cuban intelligence agents serving time in U.S. prisons.
The United States rejects talk of a prisoner swap, instead demanding that Cuba release Gross without conditions.