Wife Of Jailed American In Cuba Worries He'll Take 'Drastic Measures'

David Greene talks to Judy Gross, wife of USAID contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15 year term in a Cuban prison for bringing satellite communications equipment into the country.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are airing stories from Cuba this week. Yesterday, we heard from the Cuban diplomat in charge of relations with the United States. She defended her country's stance on an issue that remains a major stumbling block in those relations, the jailing of American Alan Gross. He's a State Department contractor who went to Cuba five years ago on a mission to promote Internet access, arriving in the country with satellite communications equipment. He was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison for violating Cuba's sovereignty. Alan Gross got a visit yesterday from his wife, Judy. We reached her afterwards, by phone, in Havana.

GREENE: So I know you're in Cuba now. Have you been able to see your husband yet?

JUDY GROSS: Yes. I visited for three hours. And he's not doing very well. This was my sixth trip, and he looks worse than I've ever seen him.

GREENE: In what way, if I can ask?

GROSS: Well, physically, he's in a great deal of chronic pain, now, because of his arthritis. But emotionally, I've never seen him quite so despondent and very hopeless. And it's really very difficult to see. He - you know, he just lost his mother. And I'm sure that contributes to it. But he's talking about he's not going to stay in prison for 10 more years and that he's going to take drastic measures if he's not out very shortly. So that's kind of scary.

GREENE: When you say drastic measures - I mean, I hate to ask you about this. But your husband's attorney has said that he is intending to end his life. I mean, are you afraid that he's heading in that direction?

GROSS: I am. I don't know if he's talking about ending his life or what he's talking about doing. But, you know, it's very concerning to me. He clearly has no plans to stay in prison for 10 more years, clearly.

GREENE: We know that he was on a brief hunger strike. But, I guess, can you explain why you think his health is deteriorating? Is it illness or are the conditions in this prison not treating him well?

GROSS: Well, the main thing that's deteriorating is his hips are so bad that he got out of a chair and almost fell. I mean, his legs are starting to not support him. So that's pretty serious. And then there are other things. You know, he's lost a bunch of teeth. So I'm worried about his nutrition. The food isn't great. You know, he doesn't eat that much. And he doesn't - he's in a cell, 12 by 12, with two other people. And he's there 23 hours a day.

GREENE: This is a country, we should say, that is known for its very good doctors. Is he getting medical attention to treat his hip and other problems?

GROSS: Not at this time, no. He's not getting any treatment other than the medication that I send him from home.

GREENE: Were you able to talk to him about what you say is his hopelessness and why that seems to be growing?

GROSS: I tried not to go there too much. I was trying to cheer him up, actually. But I think the death of his mother - because he had been trying so long and so hard to get home to see her because she's been ill for quite a while. So when she died and he couldn't get to see her or go to this funeral, there's no closure on that. So we did talk about that a bit.

GREENE: You say you want President Obama to do everything in his power to get your husband back home. What exactly do you have in mind?

GROSS: I don't have anything in mind. It's President Obama that needs to come up with a plan. And I'm confident - I'm almost confident that he will do something to get Alan home. There's been more of an awareness about Alan. And I think that the president will do what he needs to do to get him home.

GREENE: Let me ask you, if I may, we spoke to Josefina Vidal, who's a Cuban diplomat. She's in charge of relations with the United States for the Cuban government. And she reiterated that the Cuban government is interested in having a conversation about your husband and also about these three remaining members of The Cuban Five. They were convicted spies who are in prison in the United States. Is that a road you're hoping the Obama administration will go down?

GROSS: I'm hoping the road will be to sit down and negotiate. Now, what they agree on, to me, isn't as important as just getting him home. And the place to start is to sit down and negotiate, point by point, or whatever they have to do. I think that would give us the best outcome.

GREENE: Mrs. Gross, thanks very much for taking the time to chat with us. We really appreciate it.

GROSS: Sure. Thanks very much.

GREENE: Judy Gross spoke to us from Cuba where she was visiting her husband, Alan, in prison. A State Department spokesman gave this statement to NPR, quote, "we take with utmost seriousness threats of self-harm made by any U.S. citizen in a foreign prison." The spokesperson called for Cuba to release Gross immediately and said the U.S. government has been discussing the case with the Cuban government. This is NPR News.

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