Monday, January 4, 2016

Alan Gross talks about his years in prison in Cuba

His suicide threat was a ploy to turn up the heat on the Cubans.

Alan Gross at home. (Suzanne Pollak/Washington Jewish Week)

Alan Gross has talked about his experience in Cuban prison in a recent interview. He described his life after being in prison as surreal and says the incarceration was not about him -- he was a mere bargaining chip in US-Cuba negotiations and propaganda. (What he did was costly to the US taxpayer and, had he succeeded, would not have mattered).

He says he was threatened and confined to a cell 23 hours a day, but never tortured. He did not eat well, losing 70 pounds the first year and 40 more during the next three years and malnutrition led to his losing several teeth. He coped with the hardship by exercising religiously, finding something to laugh at every day and drawing strength from memory of his family that had survived the Holocaust.

Gross had limited contact with his family for the first 3 1/2 years and was not aware of the efforts being made on his behalf in the US. When he learned of those efforts, he let it be known that he was in failing health, despondent and unwilling to see anyone but his wife. He went on a nine-day hunger strike in April 2014 and said he would kill himself if he were not freed by the end of 2015.

He now says he never intended to commit suicide -- it was a ploy to turn up the heat on the Cubans, who had been alarmed by his hunger strike.

Gross had worked on many similar USAID communication projects before going to Cuba and misses that work, but said he was now afraid to leave the US.

He still has special affection for the Cuban people, including the Jews he tried to serve and is "gratified to witness a new found diplomatic relationship between Cuba and the United States”.

If you are interested in full coverage of what Gross did and the efforts to free him, see these posts.

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