US vigil urges release of American held in Cuba

AP News
Posted: Sep 23, 2011 1:52 PM
US vigil urges release of American held in Cuba

The wife of an American imprisoned in Cuba for nearly two years remains hopeful her husband can return home soon, even though a recent high-profile mission to bring her husband back failed.

Judy Gross spoke Friday at a vigil for her husband, Alan Gross, outside the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, which Havana maintains instead of an embassy. About 50 supporters stood in the rain for the hour-long vigil, holding sunflowers and signs in English and Spanish that read "Free Alan Gross Now!"

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson visited Cuba in early September, telling reporters he had been invited to the island to negotiate Gross' release. But Cuban officials ultimately rebuffed his efforts, and he went home without meeting officials or seeing Gross.

Judy Gross said Friday she had not spoken to Richardson since the trip. She said her husband is suffering every day "mentally, physically and spiritually." But she also read part of a recent letter of his where he asked supporters to "keep it positive, as I do."

Gross, 62, was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 after being caught illegally bringing communications equipment onto the island while on a USAID-funded democracy building program. In March of this year he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against the state.

Cuban officials including President Raul Castro accused him of spying, but Gross says he was only trying to help the island's tiny Jewish community get Internet access.

"His only intention was to help the small Jewish communities in Cuba, nothing more. I believe that the Cubans know this, and we remain hopeful that Alan will be able to come home soon," Judy Gross said at Friday's vigil.

Since Alan Gross' imprisonment his family has had a series of health problems. His wife has had surgery, his mother has inoperable cancer, and the older of his two daughters has undergone treatment for breast cancer. Judy Gross said Friday that when her husband learned his daughter had cancer he pleaded with Cuban officials for a brief release.

"He begged the Cuban government to let him be by her side and promised to return to Cuba after her surgery was over," Judy Gross said.

Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen also spoke at the vigil, saying that relations between the United States and Cuba would not improve until Gross is released.

"I don't know what point the Cuban government is trying to make, but they should understand point, the message they're sending to the rest of the world," said Van Hollen, a Democrat who represents a district where Gross lived. "And that point is that they fear freedom and they refuse to do the humanitarian thing."

A telephone number for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington rang unanswered Friday, and an e-mail message was not returned.