nother Year of Cuban Imprisonment Marks Five for USAID-Funded Subcontractor Alan Gross

October 12, 2016

On December 3rd 2009, Cuban authorities arrested USAID subcontractor Alan Gross. After entering the country with a tourist visa, the Cuban government discovered he was covertly distributing laptops and mobile phones.1 In 2010, NPR reported; “He was in the country to do a job. His employer, Development Alternatives, Inc. was under contract from the US Agency for International Development to help Cuban dissident groups and promote democratic values.” He was convicted in March of 2011 for importing banned technology in an effort to install clandestine internet access for a directed Jewish Cuban population.2 Last Wednesday marked five years of his imprisonment of a 15-year sentence for espionage after acting on behalf of the USAID democracy promotion project.3 He lives in a 10 foot by 12 foot room with two other inmates alleged to be political prisoners as well.1 The Cuban government claims the efforts were to initiate a “Cuban Spring” and destabilize the established government.2

The US State Department claims his release could catalyze constructive diplomatic discussion between the island and its close northern neighbor, but based on historical precedent and repeatedly rejected proposals from both sides of the 90 mile oceanic barrier, there is little hope. The Cuban government has offered an exchange, Gross for three Cuban intelligence agents still imprisoned in the US, but the US government has refused to parallel Gross’ alleged crimes with the three Cubans charged with espionage. The three men are of the infamous Cuban Five, five US accused terrorists and Cuban acclaimed heroes after attempting to infiltrate anti-Castro groups in Miami.4 Two have been released and returned to Cuba, but three remain in separate, high security US prisons. This past month, US Senators Jeff Flake, a Republican of Arizona and Tom Udall, a Democrat of New Mexico traveled to Havana to push for Gross’ release, but found no resolve.2

Gross’ wife, Judy, recently told The New York Times, “I am afraid we are at the end… Alan is done.” Gross’ family filed a $60 million lawsuit against the US government and his employer Development Alternatives Inc., claiming he was inadequately trained for the “risky situation” he faced in Cuba. The case was originally dismissed by the federal court, but is under appeal. Gross’ direct employer has already settled with his family.1 Judy describes her husband in an extremely frail state, having lost over 100 pounds since his arrest. He also suffers failing vision of his right eye and chronic hip pain in addition to increasing mental distress.3 Alan went on a nine-day hunger strike this past April.4 In May, he vowed he  would rather die than turn 66 in Cuban prison, suggesting what his wife fears to be a serious suicidal threat.4 After visiting with Judy and their daughter in Havana in July, Alan pledged he would not see them again while imprisoned.2

Judy Gross has urged President Obama to take action. Hope for swift movement on improved US/Cuba policy is rather slim overall, but the timing could not be better than it is now. Obama has recently exercised executive action benefitting Latin America, he does not face reelection, and the Summit of the Americas is fast approaching, where Cuban representatives will also be in attendance. Judy Gross has warned “it is time for President Obama to bring Alan back to the United States now; otherwise it will be too late.”3



1)   Sanders, Sam. “US Government Contractor Marks 5 Years in Cuban Detention.” NPR. Available at:

2)   Shoichet, Catherine. “’He will not endure another year,’ says wife of American imprisoned in Cuba.” CNN World. Available at:

3)   Archibold, Randal C. “US calls on Cuba to free American held since 2009 as spy.” The New York Times. Available at:

4)   Reuters. “American Alan Gross Completes fifth year in Cuban Prison.” The New York Times. Available at:



About Author(s)

dmscalise's picture
Danielle Scalise
Danielle Scalise is a senior undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing degrees in Economics and Political Science, with a minor Spanish and certificate in Latin American Studies. She took part in the Pitt in Cuba program in the spring of 2013 and is currently an intern for Panoramas. Danielle is attending Georgetown Law in the fall where she will study international economic law pursuing a career specializing in US/Latin American trade relations.