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U.S. Government Contractor Marks Five Years In Cuban Detention

Alan Gross is an American who has spent more than four years imprisoned in Cuba. His wife says he told her he can't take life in prison much longer. James L. Berenthal/AP hide caption

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James L. Berenthal/AP

Alan Gross is an American who has spent more than four years imprisoned in Cuba. His wife says he told her he can't take life in prison much longer.

James L. Berenthal/AP

Wednesday marks the fifth anniversary of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross' detention in Cuba. Gross had been working on a covert program to improve Internet access for Jewish Cubans, giving out laptops and mobile phones while traveling in the country on a tourist visa. Gross was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009. A Cuban court found him guilty of crimes against the Cuban state in 2011, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Nick Miroff previously reported on this story for NPR:

"Gross entered Cuba on a tourist visa, but he was in the country to do a job. His employer, Development Alternatives Inc., was under contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to help Cuban dissident groups and promote democratic values.

The Cuban government says Gross was handing out prohibited communications equipment. His company says it was meant to help members of the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet."

Gross' wife Judy released a statement Wednesday on her husband's continued detention:

"Enough is enough. My husband has paid a terrible price for serving his country and community. Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end. After five years of literally wasting away, Alan is done. It is time for President Obama to bring Alan back to the United States now; otherwise it will be too late."

Judy Gross says her husband has lost more than 100 pounds over the course of his detention, that "he can barely walk due to chronic pain, and he has lost five teeth and much of the sight in his right eye." Gross is being detained in a 10-foot by 12-foot room, with two other inmates who are also considered political prisoners, according to Peter Wallsten of The Washington Post, who previously spoke with NPR about Gross' case.

The Miami Herald reports that Gross staged a nine-day hunger strike earlier this year. The Herald also reports that Gross' family filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over Gross' detention:

"In a $60-million lawsuit filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, the Grosses blamed the U.S. government and Development Alternatives Inc., the Maryland-based international development firm that subcontracted the USAID project to Gross, for failing to adequately train and prepare him for the risky situation he would face in Cuba."

A judge dismissed the case, but it's under appeal. And Development Alternatives, Inc. settled with the family.

In a statement released Tuesday, the State Department said, "It is gravely disappointing, especially in light of its professed goal of providing Cubans with Internet access, that the Cuban government has not allowed Mr. Gross to return to his family, where he belongs. We reiterate our call on the Cuban government, echoing foreign leaders and even Cuba's allies, to release Alan Gross immediately."