Saturday, February 1, 2014

A conversation with Judy Gross

Forget South Florida politics, negotiate with the Cubans and find a way to bring Alan Gross home. That's what Judy Gross told me earlier this week.
Her husband has been in jail in Cuba for more than four years - 1,521 days, to be exact. And she said she is angry and frustrated that the U.S. government doesn't do more to secure his freedom. She said:
...It's been way, way too long and our government is responsible for Alan being there and I just can't believe that they can't do anything about it. Sometimes I wonder if there's some kind of motive behind it. Not to be paranoid, but it just blows my mind still that they don't even mention Alan's name.
Gross reiterated her call to President Obama to step up efforts to free her husband. Asked about Secretary John Kerry's recent request that the Vatican help out, Gross said:'s really Secretary Kerry's job to free Alan, not the Pope. So instead of asking the Pope, I think Secretary Kerry should work on it.
Judy Gross also faulted the Cuban government for jailing her husband in 2009, but expressed admiration for the Cuban people.
I really love Cuba and I hope to keep going back under different circumstances. The people are so friendly...
A full transcript of our interview is below:

Tracey Eaton: How are you?

Judy Gross: I'm doing OK, just you know living life every day and trying to do the best I can.

Eaton: After your last visit to Cuba, do you see any hopeful signs? Did you learn anything new that gives you reason to be more optimistic?

Scott Gilbert
Gross: You know, I was just there three weeks ago. The thing that was positive, I think, and that was different is that just coincidentally Scott (Gilbert, the Gross family lawyer) and I were there at the same time as the State Department delegation for the migration talks, so they got to meet with Alan and that's the first time, other than the Interests Section in Cuba, that's really the first time somebody from State has met with him.

So if there was anything positive I think it was very good for them to see Alan and to talk to him and to see what his daily life is like and to hear his issues and how he's feeling. It put something real to the person, to get to really see him face to face.

Eaton: Do you know which officials met with him?

Gross: I don't remember all of them. The usual people from the Interests Section in Cuba, you know, the chief of mission, and the delegation was headed up by (Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Edward) "Alex" Lee from State here in Washington.

Edward "Alex" Lee. Photo: C-SPAN
Eaton: Did they give you any of their impressions after that visit?

Gross: I think they were humbled. I think they were very humbled by talking to Alan and seeing him and hopefully, you know, that will make some difference. We'll just have to see.

Eaton: That must have been an emotional meeting in a way because I'll bet Alan is extremely frustrated and angry and wants to talk to somebody. What was his reaction to the meeting?

Gross: Pretty much everything you just said. He was angry. He was frustrated. I mean, he expressed those things I should say - anger and frustration and a lot of sadness and grief and lots of other adjectives that he expressed.

There's a lot pent up in somebody when they're incarcerated for four years and it's basically in a one-room cell.

Eaton: I watched several of your interviews on CNN and other media outlets and you had talked about the need for President Obama to be personally engaged. Do you feel that now he is personally engaged or is intervening?

Gross: I have not heard anything and so I can't say that that situation has changed. It might have and I just don't know that it has, but as far as I know, and as far as I feel, he still needs to get, the White House needs to get involved in this. It's very upsetting obviously that they haven't.

Eaton: Yeah, I'll bet. I wonder, has your opinion of the U.S. government changed any since this whole ordeal began?

Gross: (laughs) I think that I have gained a lot of perspective on bureaucracy and how big this government really is and how bureaucratic it really is and (it's) kind of difficult to mire through it. But as far as the government, no, really it hasn't changed.

I feel angry. I feel angry that there's no response from the government who sent Alan there to begin with. It was a U.S. government project, obviously. And I feel angry that there's been no communication, especially because he was working as a U.S. government contractor. But I don't think I feel differently about the government.

I still believe in our political system.

Eaton: I understand. So it's not as if U.S. officials are reaching out to you regularly and keeping touch with you and giving you updates or anything like that?

Gross: That's right.

Eaton: OK. And can you describe the experience of having to sue the U.S. government and Alan’s employer to try to obtain some sort of compensation?

Gross: I was never there at any of the meetings, the litigation or any of that, so I personally can't describe any feelings of actually being there. But it was very frustrating because it took so long and I was very scared to be honest with you. I didn't know how I was going to live. I mean I would have had to move into like a, what do you call it, not even a one-bedroom apartment. A very, very tiny apartment and live very carefully. And I still am afraid of my future financially. So that was frustrating that that all took so long. And I'm just glad it got settled.

Eaton: I don't know the latest. Isn't there an appeal in the lawsuit against the U.S. government?

Gross: That's something because there's still litigation that I can't really talk about.

See page 539 of H.R. 3547
Eaton: I was a little surprised, I read a few days ago that U.S. lawmakers had defunded USAID programs in Cuba in their newest budget-

Gross: Really? I hadn't heard that. That's something I would have thought I would have known about.

Eaton: It hasn't really gotten much notice at all. I just wondered if you know if your husband's case somehow influenced that decision?

Gross: I can't speak on that. I'm going to have to find out.

Eaton: It's been voted on and approved.

Gross: Holy cow! How would (Sen. Robert) Menéndez allow that to happen? I'm very surprised that I didn't hear that.

Fernando González
Eaton: Do you think release of Fernando González (a Cuban Five member set to be freed on Feb. 27) will have any impact on the case?

Gross: No, I don't. I don't think that will have any change on anything.

Eaton: What about Secretary of State Kerry reportedly asking the Vatican to help win Alan’s release. Any idea whether that might help in the process? Have you heard anything about that?

Gross: I'm very skeptical about that. We've had Vatican contact in the past with the former Pope and I just, you know, I would love to be wrong but I don't think anything's going to come from that. And it's really Secretary Kerry's job to free Alan, not the Pope. So instead of asking the Pope, I think Secretary Kerry should work on it.

John Kerry, Pope Francis
Eaton: Good point. And altogether you've been to Cuba how many times?

Gross: I think this was my sixth trip.

Eaton: Wow, lots of trips.

Gross: Lots of years.

Eaton: I read that the Cuban foreign minister told you the Cubans were waiting for U.S. to send an American envoy who could start negotiations with the Cubans. Did you get that same impression the last time?

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez
Gross: The foreign minister is Bruno Rodríguez. I met with him the last time, not this most recent trip. In this most recent trip, we were told that Cuba has reached out via letter asking the United States to contact them so they can start talking, and they said there were no preconditions.

Eaton: And during your trips to Cuba I imagine your focus is like a laser on Alan, but have you gotten any impression of the country or any opinion on the country itself?

Gross: I wish I could get out of Havana. I never got past Havana. I really love Cuba and I hope to keep going back under different circumstances. The people are so friendly and with all the difficulties they have, and they certainly have plenty of difficulties, they seem to just maintain great mood. This is what I see from observing. I don't have any personal relationships with anyone. But they just, the people that I have met they have been very gracious and very kind and I love the feel of the city. I look and try to think what it was like before the infrastructure started falling apart. I love the music. I love the culture.

Eaton: If time machines existed, I'd like to go back to 1958 to see what that was like.

Gross:(laughs) I look forward to the say when really the Americans can share music with Cubans. That's what I look forward to.

Eaton: That will be great.

Some lawmakers say Cuba should make concessions to the U.S. - improving basic human rights, for instance - before we even talk with Cuba about Alan. What's your opinion of that?

Gross: My opinion is that they need to sit down and negotiate whatever they want to negotiate. I don't want to get involved in the political issues of Cuba. Our lawmakers- I think everything should be on the table. I don't think our lawmakers should make any preconditions, let's put it that way.

Eaton: I just have one more question and it's very open-ended. I wonder, is there anything that journalists haven't asked you that you wish they would have? Is there something that you would like to cover or would like people to know?

Gross: Well, that's a question I've never been asked. That's a tough one. I just want to reiterate my frustration I would have to say with both governments. I can't just say the U.S. government obviously. The Cuban government is very much at fault, too, for arresting Alan to begin with. But you know it's been way, way too long and our government is responsible for Alan being there and I just can't believe that they can't do anything about it. Sometimes I wonder if there's some kind of motive behind it. Not to be paranoid, but it just blows my mind still that they don't even mention Alan's name.

Eaton: I've thought it strange, too. We're supposedly the most powerful government on earth. It's occurred to me - could they take him by force? Although then I imagine that could endanger Alan. It's just hard to believe we can't do more.

Marco Rubio, Bob Menéndez, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Gross: I think politics rears it's ugly head in a way. You might want to find out more about the influence that Menéndez has and (U.S. Rep.) Ileana (Ros-Lehtinen) and (Sen. Marco) Rubio, but especially Sen. Menéndez. I honestly think that he has a lot of power in this whole thing. I could be wrong, but I can't think of any other reason why the president won't speak about it.

Eaton: It’s great to talk to you.

Gross: OK, take care.


hermanopablo12 said...

Cuba policy is regrettably dictated by the Diaz Balart brothers whose father was Batista's Deputy Interior Minister as well as Ileana Ros. Diaz Balart is alleged to have ordered the execution of 2000 of Batista's enemies by his thugs the Masferrer Brothers. He is also alleged to have raped 74 school girls who were snatched off the street to be put into service as prostitutes for the US Mafia brothels. Ros has spent her entire career in Congress protecting the terrorists who bombed Cubana flight 455 killing 78. George W Bush said "if you support a terrorist, then you are a terrorist." Ros is the longest serving terrorist in the US House. Is it any wonder our Cuba policy is such a disaster?

alongthemalecon said...

No doubt about it, U.S. policy toward Cuba is controversial.

Moses said...

I can only imagine her despair. Unfortunately, President Obama is President of 330 million Americans and must do what is in the best interests of ALL Americans and not just Alan Gross. She doesn't come right out and say it but obviously she would like to see the US trade the remaining three convicted Cuban spies for Alan Gross. Unfortunately, that would play right into the hands of the Castros and not be in the long-term interests of the US. I can't blame her, however, for wanting this to be done. For her, this is not about capitulating to tyrants, it is about bringing her husband home. Like you Tracey, I too have wondered why we don't just blast our way in there and take Mr. Gross by force. But then I assume the risk to Gross is too great and potential for loss of innocent Cuban lives is probably high. All that remains is the unilateral release of Mr.Gross on humanitarian grounds. One can only hope....

curt9954 said...

If Judy truly loved her husband she would not have let him make his journeys to Cuba. Gross wil never be set free if the US does not negotiate with Cuba.

Unknown said...

Do you know what the Cuban government is asking by the freedom of Alan Gross? The freedom and the return to Cuba of the 5 spies in jail in Miami.

Juan Antonio Rodríguez Menier

Cuba - Queremos. Frente Ciudadano. said...

Por Amor a Nuestro Pueblo, por Amor a Nuestra Patria:

Entonces Hermanos!, quien o quienes tergiversan o permiten que se tergiverse el concepto de democracia???

En mi opinion, el tergiverzado concepto de democracia que nos quieren inculcar tanto los que gobiernan como los ansiosos en gobernar, precisamente impide que surja el intercambio democratico y civilizado entre nosotros, ya esos mas viejos y con mas experiencias en Cuba, se sienten amparados por todo y de todo, los que viven en el exterior acomodaron sus vidas de tal manera, que cualquier apertura o cambio democratico en el sistema politico cubano, pondria en peligro tanto su estabilidad economica y laboral, como la existencia como tal de su aventurismo politico, los mas distinguidos de ellos sencillamente dan pena cada vez que emiten un criterio acerca de Cuba, por ejemplo, miren sus reacciones a la intencion del secretario general de la OEA de visitar Cuba, o a la reciente visita del ex-senador estadounidense a nuestro pais o a cualquier acontecimiento que implique apertura democratica para con Cuba, estan en shok-panico y no es para menos, han utilizado el sufrimiento de nuestro pueblo para inculcarnos que politica, es unica y exclusivamente estar en contra de cualquier dialogo o acercamiento con el regimen, o sea que el mundo entero esta equivocado, los "genios politicos" son solo ellos. Hermanos, hasta Corea del Norte dias atras expreso su disposicion de normalizar su relaciones con sus hermanos del Sur, o sea que todos los paises en conflictos tanto nacionales como internacionales tienen un espacio, ya sea dentro o fuera del pais para buscar una solucion politica precisamente a las situaciones de sus naciones, cuando no lo pueden hacer directamente ellos, recurren a sus amigos para buscar y encontrar ese espacio, nosotros somos la excepcion, somos incapaces de crear ese espacio de negociacion, tampoco le pedimos a nuestros amigos ayuda para crearlo, al contrario ofendemos y desacreditamos a todo el que lo intente hacer. "genial", graciasss a Dios y a la tecnologia hoy no necesitamos arrodillarnos a ningun medio de difusion para expresar nuestro sentir a quien se nos ocurra, y asi lo seguira haciendo este humilde ciudadano cubano status-emigrante, hasta que nuestro pueblo consiga su plena libertad, que no es mas que la garantia de nuestra prosperidad y soberania. que Dios nos bendiga a todos. Muchas gracias y mi mas sincero saludo. 21.01.14.Boris.