Caribbean, Cuba, Latin America: Week in Review

Alan Gross, Prisoner in Cuba for Five Years, Threatens Hunger Strike

December 4, 2014 By Staff

Top Story — On the fifth anniversary of his arrest for alleged espionage in Cuba, former U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross has threatened a hunger strike and stated that he is unlikely to survive unless released by his 66th birthday in May. Gross’ fate is firmly tied to ongoing U.S.-Cuba relations, and his rapidly deteriorating health places increased pressure on both sides over the next five months.

According to a written statement released on Wednesday by his wife, Gross has lost over 100 pounds, is rendered nearly immobile by chronic pain, has lost all but one of his front teeth and is almost blind in his right eye. She called President Barack Obama to action, writing that, “Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end. After five years of literally wasting away, Alan is done. It is time for President Obama to bring Alan back to the United States now; otherwise it will be too late.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also released a statement on Wednesday, expressing grave concern for Gross’ health. Earnest added that Gross’ release “would remove an impediment to more constructive relations” between Cuba and the United States.

Gross was arrested on Dec. 3 2009 in Cuba for covertly setting up internet service on the island without the government’s authorization. He had entered Cuba on a tourist visa, but was in fact working for a company under contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development. In 2011, Gross was sentenced to 15 years for crimes against the state.

In a statement this spring, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations declared that, “Mr. Gross was arrested, prosecuted and sentenced for violating Cuban laws, while implementing a subversive program, financed by the United States government, via the establishment of an illegal, undercover communications system, with the use of non-commercial technology.”

Gross’ status as an alleged spy has been explicitly linked in Cuba’s state-run media to three convicted Cuban spies serving long sentences on U.S. soil. A New York Times op-ed in November argued that the Obama administration should commute the sentences of the Cuban prisoners — who are widely believed to have received an unfair trial — in exchange for Gross’ freedom. A lawyer for two of the three incarcerated Cubans has pushed for a swap, stating that, “There seems to be a growing sense in this country that resolving both situations would be constructive.”

Gross’ family previously filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government and the contractor that employed him, alleging that they failed to properly train Gross for the perilous task at hand. The suit was dismissed by a judge, but is currently under appeal. Development Alternatives, Inc., the government contractor that employed Gross, settled out of court.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

  • Seventeen states have filed a federal lawsuit challenging President Obama’s executive action on immigration reforms on the grounds that it placed illegal burdens on state budgets and violated the president’s constitutional duties.
  • “A nation that was born out of political revolution a century ago may yet retain enough muscle memory to unleash another,” said New Yorker writer Jon Lee Anderson, referring to ongoing protests in Mexico over the disappearance of the 43 missing students and government corruption.


  • Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Puerto Rico’s highway authority treasurer on Wednesday on charges of bribery, the latest instance of alleged government corruption on the island.
  • Cuba not only sent the first and largest medical contingent to Africa in response to the Ebola crisis, but also to Haiti and Pakistan after their devastating earthquakes, reminds an opinion piece in The Guardian, which praises Cuba’s medical responses while condemning the U.S. blockade.
  • Pope Francis assured the Dominican Republic that “the truth must prevail” with regards to the ongoing sexual assault case against Jozef Wesolowski, a former priest and ambassador to the Dominican Republic who was accused of paying shoeshine boys to masturbate.

Central America

  • The U.S. announced the official launch of a government program that would allow for children in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who have a parent legally residing in the U.S. to apply for refugee status within their home countries, in order to provide a safer alternative to the dangerous journey many children from these countries have been taking to the U.S. in record numbers this past year.
  • The governments of Guatemala and Honduras have announced that they will create a joint military force to combat drug trafficking on the border between the two countries.


  • Colombia’s government announced Wednesday that it will resume peace talks with FARC rebels following the group’s release of captured army Gen. Rubén Darío Alzate on Sunday.
  • Venezuelan authorities have charged prominent opposition politician María Corina Machado with plotting to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro, though she has yet to be detained.
  • A caravan of 17 Ecuadorian environmental activists en route to the UN climate change summit in Peru were stopped by police at least six times in the Ecuadorian capital Quito, where they eventually had their bus seized.

Southern Cone

  • In a bid to increase its influence in Africa, Brazil has announced that it will create a naval mission on the Portuguese-speaking island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe.
  • Income inequality across Latin America has declined, according to the World Bank’s “Gini index,” though the reasons for this trend remain unclear.
  • State-controlled Brazilian energy conglomerate Petrobras, currently under investigation in a historic corruption scandal, announced that it has found large amounts of natural gas off Colombia’s Caribbean coast, the first such discovery in the area.

Image: Youtube

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[…] conversations” regarding the release of Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who has been imprisoned in Cuba for over five […]

[…] U.S. President Bill Clinton on Thursday said Cuba’s continued detention of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross is a major impediment to the potential for improved U.S.-Cuba […]

[…] was arrested in Cuba in 2009 while working as a subcontractor with the U.S. Agency for International Development. He […]

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