Alan Gross, the American government worker from America that became a prisoner of Cuba, has ended his hunger strike. The hunger strike was in direct protest to his imprisonment in the island country, attempting to highlight the minimal effort on behalf of the United States of America to free him. Since his imprisonment, his health has deteriorated deeply, and many, including his family, believe his life to be in grave danger. His life was even more threatened by the eight-day long hunger strike.
Gross was detained by the Cuban government for his mission, on the behest of the U.S. Agency for International Development. He planned to give many communities throughout Cuba access to the internet, as well as ways to use it for social media purposes. His mission was not unlike the ZunZuneo experiment, in which citizens in the island used the Twitter-esque software to promote opinions and political ideas; a mission carried out by the same American government corporation that Gross had been working for in 2009.
Gross’s 92-year-old mother is the one responsible for the ending of the American prisoner’s hunger strike in Cuba, though. When she reached out to him, he said he would end his strike. However, he claims that more strikes are on the way, albeit different in nature to his hunger strike. Currently, he has spent the last five years in a Havana prison in Cuba, serving only just a third of his 15 year sentence.
The hunger strikes on behalf of Gross are reminiscent of the widespread hunger strikes occurring in Guantánamo Bay detention camp, also located in Cuba. The military prison institution has drawn international criticism and outrage for their detention, and cruel and unusual torture of suspected terrorists. Little proof has been needed for the American government to detain and torture terrorist suspects, and the detention camp is a dark, horrifying underbelly to an already problematic Cuba. Much of the U.S.-Cuba relations as of late have centered around the detainment of Gross, as the Obama calls for an “unconditional release.” However, the situation is complex, as the U.S. has detained Cuban citizens on charges of espionage.
Response From Cuba
Josefina Vidal, the director of U.S. relations in the Foreign Ministry, decried the ZunZuneo experiment that the American government was responsible for. She criticized the action as a blatant attempt to overthrow the communist government that has held its grip on Cuba for many years. Since Gross was jailed in 2009, the heyday of ZunZuneo’s implementation throughout the country, and the nature of his mission on behalf of the U.S. Agency for International Development, it is revelatory that he had something to do with the Cuban version of Twitter. Also in 2009, a Juanes concert, the Colombian based musician from Miami, attracted thousands of Cubans. ZunZuneo sent out widespread questionnaires to the users, inquiring how they felt about two local musicians that recently had a falling out with the government, and whether or not they would like to see them perform alongside Juanes. The messages inspired over 100,000 responses on ZunZuneo, showing the power that Cuba saw as a threat.
As ridiculous as the debacle of ZunZuneo and its misguided diplomacy was, it is no justification for Cuba to take a contractor from America prisoner over it, pushing him to the edge; leading him to starve himself within an inch of his life in a hunger strike. Havana should release Alan Gross to his homeland where he can regain his health and be with his family; not isolated in a jail cell for trying to install internet access in remote areas of the country. Likewise, America should release the Cuban prisoners they have taken, before relations with Havana sour even further and spiral downward. They fear the repercussions of releasing prisoners, but the repercussions of not releasing them are far more dangerous.
Opinion by Tyler Collins