February 25, 2011 / 12:49 AM / 9 years ago

Woes pile up for family of U.S. contractor in Cuba

HAVANA (Reuters) - For Judy Gross, getting caught in the bitter half-century conflict between the United States and Cuba has been an unending nightmare.

Alan Gross and his wife Judy pose with their daughters during a Friday Shabbat dinner in an undated photo. REUTERS/Family photo

Her husband, Alan Gross, has been locked up for 15 months in a Cuban jail and now faces a possible 20-year sentence in a March 4 trial, announced on Thursday, for working in a U.S. program outlawed on the communist-led island.

While she said she hopes for a positive outcome in Cuba, the news at home has not been good.

Their 26-year-old daughter underwent a double mastectomy because of breast cancer last week and at the same time they learned Alan Gross’ 88-year-old mother has lung cancer.

“I feel like we have a curse,” she said by telephone from Washington. “I’ve forgotten what it’s like not to be anxious.”

She has pleaded with the Cuban government to release her husband on humanitarian grounds and was shocked when it announced on February 4 it would seek the 20-year sentence.

“I knew it was a possibility, but when you actually hear what they did, I was devastated,” she said.

Gross is accused of crimes against the security of the state for illegally importing satellite communications equipment under a U.S. Agency for International Development program aimed at promoting political change in Cuba.

Cuban leaders view the program as part of the longstanding U.S. efforts to topple the government.

The United States has said Gross, a 61-year-old development worker, was only providing improved Internet access to Jewish groups and has committed no crimes.

Cuban Jewish leaders deny knowing Gross, and may testify at the trial, said a source close to the Jewish community. “I don’t know what they’re thinking,” said Judy Gross. “I know Alan was there, that Alan talked to a lot of people there.”

She said her husband was very close to his mother and took the news of her illness hard. He has lost 90 pounds (41 kg) in prison and developed a painful arthritic condition.

“He’s not doing real well right now,” she said.

Cuba allowed Judy Gross to visit her husband last summer. She also wrote a letter to President Raul Castro expressing remorse for Alan’s work and asking for his release.

Cuban leaders complained for years that the United States had refused to let family members visit five Cuban agents imprisoned in the United States since 1998.

The U.S. finally allowed the visits this year and modified its USAID programs in what appeared to be, at least in part, gestures to help Gross.

Judy Gross said she had not yet decided whether to attend her husband’s trial, but urged the two countries to end their differences and her nightmare.

“I would like to see the U.S. and Cuban governments stop throwing barbs at each other and just sit down together and see what they can accomplish,” she said.

Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Todd Eastham

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