Photo: Alan Gross, US contractor currently behind bars in Cuba
U.S. contractor Alan Gross, behind bars in Cuba since December 2009, termed an alleged offer by the island’s authorities to fly in his terminally ill mother “baloney.”
In a phone interview with CNN aired Friday, Gross said his attorney sent a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro on March 7 requesting he be granted a two-week furlough to travel to the United States to visit his 90-year-old mother, who has inoperable lung cancer, and his daughter.
“We’ve gotten no response, no response whatsoever ... My mother is not allowed to travel. She is medically ordered not to travel. And the government of Cuba knows this. And yet they offered to send a plane to Miami to bring her here. My mother does not live in Miami. My mother lives in Texas,” Gross told CNN’s “The Situation Room.”
“That’s baloney. I’m trying to catch myself so I don’t use a stronger word.
The U.S. State Department has asked Cuba to heed Gross’s request as a reciprocal measure after Washington allowed Cuban intelligence agent Rene Gonzalez - on probation in Florida after serving 13 years for espionage - to travel to the island in late March for a brief visit with his terminally ill brother.
“The fact that the United States allowed Rene Gonzalez to travel here to see his brother and the government of Cuba will not reciprocate means that on the issue of reciprocation there’s a lot of hypocrisy,” the contractor said.
Gross added that he thinks it is “shameful” for the Cuban government “not to show the respect to respond officially” to his letter.
He pledged during the interview that he would return to Cuba and complete his 15-year sentence if authorities on the Communist-ruled island grant his request.
“I would return to Cuba. You can quote me on that. I’m saying it live. I would return to Cuba if they let me visit my mother before she dies,” Gross said.
Asked about his day-to-day life, Gross said he was being held at a “secured hospital building” with three people to a room as opposed to a “typical Cuban jail.”
He said he “didn’t really see any sunlight for the first year-and-a-half or so” behind bars, his “food was infested with insects” and he was not allowed to read anything.
“And eventually, after the conviction and after the Supreme Court upheld the conviction things improved as far as my physical comforts were concerned.”
Gross recalled a visit he received two years ago from Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, who told him his imprisonment was not personal but merely “an effort on the part of the Cuban government to express its disdain to the United States and to try to bring about some kind of trade.”
(The prisoner was alluding to Gonzalez and four other Cuban intelligence agents, known as the “Cuban Five,” who were arrested by the FBI in 1998 and convicted three years later by a federal jury in Miami of espionage. Havana says the men - all except Gonzalez still in prison, one serving a life sentence - were spying on Miami’s Cuban exile community not the U.S. government.)
“But right now, it is about me and it’s about my family and it’s about my mother. And I’m taking this very personally,” Gross said.
Now 63, Gross was arrested in Havana on Dec. 3, 2009, in possession of satellite communications equipment he said he was planning to distribute among Cuba’s Jewish community.
Havana says he was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion on the Communist-ruled island. Last August, Cuba’s highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on Gross five months earlier.
Gross was in Cuba as an employee of a Maryland firm contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Washington, which has repeatedly denied the accusations against Gross and called for his release, has dismissed suggestions that it offer to trade the members of the Cuban Five for the contractor.