(JTA) — Nearly 100 U.S. lawmakers called on the government of Cuba to release imprisoned Jewish U.S. contractor Alan Gross.
Nineteen senators and 72 members of the House of Representatives sent letters to the government of Cuba at the urging of the Jewish Federations of North America and its members. Also, eight congressmen sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urging the State Department to demand the immediate release of Gross, who marked his second year in prison on Saturday.
“The release of Alan Gross is a humanitarian issue for all Americans,” said Michael Gelman, chair of the Executive Committee of the board of The Jewish Federations of North America. “Cuba should not hold captive this individual who belongs at home with his family in Maryland.”
The White House on Friday had called for the release of Gross, 62, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for “crimes against the state” for distributing laptop computers and connecting Cuban Jews to the Internet. He was arrested in 2009 as he was leaving Cuba.
In a statement released the same day, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington said that the Cuban government would be willing to find a humanitarian solution on a “reciprocal basis,” likely referring to several Cuban nationals held in U.S. prisons, the Associated Press reported.
The statement said that all Cuban synagogues had Internet access before Gross arrived and that he was arrested “while implementing a covert program financed by the U.S. government and aimed at disrupting the constitutional order in Cuba.” It said the activities Gross conducted would “constitute crimes in many countries of the world, including in the United States."
Gross’ family and U.S. State Department officials say that Gross was in the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the country’s 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet. The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program.
Gross’ wife, Judy, spoke last month at a protest on her husband’s behalf outside the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. Judy Gross said that when she last spoke with her husband, he sounded “hopeless and depressed.”
Alan Gross reportedly has lost 100 pounds while in prison and suffers from several ailments. His mother and his daughter are both currently battling cancer.