Ex-jailed American subcontractor: Cuba needs to join the 21st Century
NORA GÁMEZ TORRES
Alan Gross, the U.S. government subcontractor who spent five years in a
Havana prison for providing the means for Cuban Jews to connect to the
digital world, is in Miami to take part in a conference on how to expand
the island's access to the internet.
"Access to information is a human right. The internet is way to access
information … The system they have there thwarted the development of
Cubanos' minds because they did not have access to information," Gross
told el Nuevo Herald.
Gross will participate in the Cuba Internet Freedom conference taking
place Monday and Tuesday and organized by the U.S. government's Office
of Cuba Broadcasting, which runs Radio-TV Martí. Government news media
in Havana have painted the conference as focused on "the subversive use
of the internet in Cuba."
"The internet is not a subversive tool of the U.S. government," Gross
said. "Three billion people log on every day around the world … why
can't the 11.3 million Cubans? Do you think 3 billion people are trying
to subvert the government of Cuba? No."
Gross, who has worked in 54 countries on a broad range of U.S.
government development projects, traveled to Cuba five times as a
subcontractor for Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), a company hired
by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide
independent satellite access to the internet to three Jewish groups on
The Cuban government, which tries to tightly control access to the
internet, block opposition web pages and censor critical information,
arrested Gross in December of 2009. He was convicted of endangering the
island's national sovereignty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
"What I did infuriated the government...but there are 11.3 million
people living on the island who should be furious at the government for
not giving them internet access," Gross said after arriving in Miami Friday.
Gross has insisted since his arrest that he was not a spy: "Had I been a
spy, I would have come home a lot sooner," he said.
"I used no so-called discreet SIM cards in the activities I was involved
in ," he said, referring to news media reports that he had one of the
devices when he was arrested. They are used to mask the signals of
satellite phones and are generally restricted to military use.
A document published by the National Security Archives, a non-government
organization, indicated Gross intended to use the special SIM cards if
the DAI-USAID project grew beyond the Jewish communities in three Cuban
He said the Cuban government knew he was not a spy because former
President Jimmy Carter told him so during a visit. "President Carter
said, 'Alan, Raúl Castro knows you're not a spy.' I asked, 'How do you
know this?' He said, 'He told me'."
Carter told Gross that he then took a chance and asked the Cuban leader
to let him take Gross but he refused saying that if he did, "They would
run me out of town on a rail."
Said Gross: "Does that sounds like somebody who is in control of a country?"
Born in New York, the 67-year-old Gross lost 110 lbs in the Cuban
military hospital prison where he served part of his sentence. Visitors
were allowed to bring him salami during his last year there, which he
said was the only meat he ate in prison.
Despite the incarceration, Gross said he would "go back to Cuba in a
heartbeat" because of its people, whom he complimented as generous and
warm among other things.
Following his release in December of 2014, as part of negotiations tied
to President Barack Obama's decision to restore U.S. diplomatic
relations with Cuba, Gross surprised many when he endorsed the new
policy of warming relations with the island.
"My position does not come from any alleged Stockholm syndrome. I'm not
a big fan of my captors – and I don't know how to say that in a nicer
way," he said. "But after some 50 years of a failed policy of the U.S.,
we could not get them to change. So why should we continue to do this?
Let's engage. Let's do something different."
"Only Cubans can change their system. We can't change that for them. But
we don't need to do anything to prevent them from changing," Gross
added. "I'll put it very plainly: What do we want? We want the
government of Cuba to get out of the way of the private sector.
"So if that's what we want the government of Cuba to do, then the U.S.
government should do the same thing: get rid of the embargo, allow
private farmers, people who produce any export-quality product, to have
a market in the United States," he said.
Gross also highlighted some of the reforms that Cuba has adopted, such
as easing some restrictions on the private sector, but cautioned that
the island's government will likely continue to make statements that are
hostile to the United States.
"They cannot let go of the past … but internet is now legal," he said,
adding that he believes there's a direct link between the changes
adopted by Obama, such as lifting all limits on family trips and
remittances, and the growth of the private sector on the island.
Cuba nevertheless needs to open its economic doors even wider, Gross
added. "They need to come up to the 21st Century."
Nearly two years after his release and return home – as part of
negotiations that included the exchange of three Cuban spies held in
U.S. prisons for Rolando Sarraf, a U.S. spy held in Cuban prisons –
Gross said he is now more "generous" toward the Obama administration
than his wife, Judy Gross.
"My family went through hell but let's be realistic. There were a few
other items on the President's plate beside this American being held in
Cuba," he said. "The President was dealing with Iran, Korea, Russia,
ISIS, life or death issues. So yeah, I took a back seat...but the
reality is they brought me home."
He also defended the role of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who
at the time of his arrest was Secretary of State.
"It was only the President who can make the final decision and she, I
believe, began the government-to-government talks. For anyone to say she
did not do what she could to get me out is simply wrong," Gross said.
"She did a lot, she met with my wife several times and we did not make
any contributions to the Clinton Foundation."
Gross emphasized that he never believed he would die in Cuba, "not for a
minute. I knew I was going home" even though during his prison term he
considered himself to be "a pawn of both governments."
"Nothing is worth what I went through," he added. "In the grand scheme
of things … I became a catalyst in a process that I believe now is
irreversible and is a positive process."
IF YOU GO
The Cuba Internet Freedom conference will take place Monday and Tuesday
as part of Social Media Week at the Miami Ad School, 571 NW 28th St, in
the Wynwood Arts District. For more information, visit
Source: Ex-jailed American subcontractor: Cuba needs to join the 21st
Century | In Cuba Today -