HAVANA (Reuters) - A U.S. foreign aid contractor serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for importing banned Internet technology is increasingly suicidal, his wife and lawyer said on Wednesday.
They renewed their call for U.S. President Barack Obama to become more involved in securing his release, saying the recent trade of five Taliban terrorism suspects for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl was one model for how to bring him home.
Alan Gross, 65, has served four and a half years of his 15-year term for illegally attempting to establish an online network for Jews in Havana as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
His wife, Judy Gross, is in Cuba and visited him on Tuesday. She said in a statement she was worried he might “do something drastic” if he remains imprisoned.
“I am extremely worried that Alan is becoming more despondent every day,” his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, said in the statement. “Both governments need to know that Alan plans to end his life in an effort to end this agony.”
Gross has lost more than 100 pounds (46 kg), has failing vision in one eye and problems with both hips, Gilbert said. He went on an 8-day hunger strike in April and began eating again at the urging of his dying mother. Evelyn Gross, 92, died last week.
Cuba says he is kept in humane conditions.
“If we can trade five members of the Taliban to bring home one American soldier, surely we can figure out a path forward to bring home one American citizen from a Cuban prison,” Judy Gross said.
Bergdahl’s release on May 31 after five years in captivity in return for five Taliban members held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, provoked an angry backlash from members of Congress, who were not notified in advance. In addition, some of Bergdahl’s former comrades have charged he was captured in 2009 after deserting his post.
Cuba has sought to link Gross’s incarceration to the cases of the so-called Cuban Five, unregistered agents who were caught spying on Cuban exile groups in Florida. Two of the five have been released.
The United States has rejected any trade of the Cuban agents for Gross, and no formal talks have taken place.
Editing by David Adams and Doina Chiacu