HAVANA (CBSMiami) – Photos showing an American man jailed in communist Cuba were released Wednesday, just weeks after his wife and U.S. lawmakers called for his release.
Alan Gross, 62, has been imprisoned in the island nation since 2009 when he was arrested for trying to help members of the island’s small Jewish community with Internet access. He was formally sentenced to 15 years in prison earlier this year for crimes against the state and “disrupting the constitutional order in Cuba.”
In the photos, Gross is seen with Adela Dworin and David Prinstein, leaders of the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Havana. The photographs are believed to be the first that authorities have allowed visitors to take of Gross.
Dworin tells CBS that Gross appeared to be in better spirits than her two previous visits with him. Gross told her that he had gained some weight and was now 161 lbs. He also said that he gets plenty of exercise, walking five miles a day inside the military hospital where he is being held instead of a normal prison.
If true, the news may come as a relief to Gross’ family, who earlier this month pleaded the Cuban government for his release on humanitarian grounds, citing ailing health.
At the time he was arrested Gross was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, a government agency that provides humanitarian assistance but also funds democracy-building programs. The Cuban statement said Gross never told people he contacted in the Communist nation that he was working for a U.S. government program.
The “undercover activities” that Gross conducted in Cuba “constitute crimes in many countries of the world, including in the United States,” the statement said without specifying what Gross did.
The statement concludes by saying that the Cuban government has told their U.S. counterparts that Cuba is willing to find a “humanitarian solution” to the Gross case on a “reciprocal basis.”
U.S. officials have reportedly offered to let Rene Gonzalez, a convicted Cuban spy who served 13 years in a U.S. prison and is now out on probation, return to the island in exchange for Gross, but Cuban officials reportedly rejected the offer.
Gross’ family and U.S. officials are still pushing for his release, saying his mother and daughter are both fighting cancer and his wife, Judy, has had to sell their home.
After seeing the new photos, Judy Gross released this statement:
“It was upsetting to see the photos of Alan from his visit with Adela Dworin. To those of us who knew him before his incarceration began more than two years ago, he is now frail, weak, and appears decades older than the 60-year old man that we last saw on American soil. To understand our concern, all one needs to do is compare photos of Alan just before he went to Cuba in November 2009 to those being released now. While Alan always tries to put on a brave face when he is granted a visitor, unfortunately we cannot take comfort in Ms. Dworin’s report that he is doing fine. I speak with Alan regularly and I saw him as recently as a few weeks ago; I know that he is deteriorating more and more every day, both mentally and physically. He has told me he is feeling very hopeless, and recently, for the first time, he cried on the phone. His voice is monotone and he admits to worsening depression. I truly do not know how much longer he can take this ordeal, and we continue to beg the Cuban authorities to let Alan come home to us.”
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