Alan Gross, a 64-year-old American serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for setting up internet access for the island's Jewish population, has announced he's begun a hunger strike partially in response to revelations about America's secret efforts to start a "Cuban Twitter" aimed at youthful dissidents.
"I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions, and inaction by both governments, not only regarding their shared responsibility for my arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal," Gross read in a statement. "Once again, I am calling on President Obama to get personally involved in ending this standoff so that I can return home to my wife and daughters."
Gross was working as a subcontractor with Development Alternatives Inc., which had won a Bush-era U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contract to help supply the Cuban population with communications equipment. He traveled to Cuba several times and supplied the island's small Jewish population with computer and satellite devices. In late 2009 on a follow-up trip, he was arrested by Cuban authorities.
He was put on trial in 2011 and eventually sentence to 15 years. But he was never tried for Cuba's earliest accusations of espionage.
The USAID program has since been criticized as ineffective and needlessly putting Americans in danger.
USAID is also the same agency that was revealed last week to be behind the "Cuban Twitter" project, which has also received heavy criticism.
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"Once Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety even further by running a covert operation in Cuba," Gross's lawyer, Scott Gilbert, said in a statement. "USAID has made one absurdly bad decision after another. Running this program is contrary to everything we have been told by high-level representatives of the Obama administration about USAID's activities in Cuba."
Gross's health is already a source of worry for supporters. He has reportedly lost more than 110 pounds in prison even before the hunger strike, and a growth that developed on his right shoulder has been a matter of contention. However, Cuban doctors say the growth is not cancerous.