Washington – Judy Gross, the wife of U.S. aid subcontractor Alan Gross, who is imprisoned in Cuba, urged President Barack Obama to "take the first step" toward negotiating his release as soon as possible, and she denied that her husband had offered himself to be "exchanged" for five Cuban prisoners in the United States.
"Alan was working for the U.S. government when he traveled to Cuba. He risked his life for the U.S. government, and he spent five weeks in southwestern Virginia campaigning for Obama" in 2008, said Judy during an interview with Efe shortly before the second anniversary of her husband's imprisonment this coming Saturday.
"He left his work for five weeks, he slept in other people's houses ... I'd love for President Obama to pick up the telephone or send an email, and try to take the first step and say 'let's sit down to negotiate,'" Judy emphasized.
However, she ventured that Obama's lukewarm response might be due "possibly to the upcoming elections" in 2012. Florida, a key state in that contest, is very sensitive to the issue of Cuba.
Gross was working as a subcontractor for the DAI company, which in turn had a contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development, when he was arrested and jailed on Dec. 3, 2009, on charges of attempting to subvert the Cuban state.
In a message to Havana, Judy was blunt: "The Cuban authorities know that he was not spying. They've already made their point and it's time for them to let him go. Fifteen years for carrying cell phones, something that in another country wouldn't be a big thing, is too much."
Gross shares a small cell with two other men in the Carlos Finlay military hospital and prison. His 15-year sentence behind bars was upheld by Cuba's Supreme Court.
Judy said she was "disappointed" by the lack of help from DAI and USAID, and she said that the agency never warned Alan about the risks he could face in Cuba.
"Alan has worked in more than 50 countries. He's a very sophisticated man, a very savvy traveler and he can work hard with any culture ... There's no way he would have put his life in danger or ours," Judy said, lamenting the "empty chair" in her home at family celebrations.
She also expressed frustration at what she sees as the intransigence of the two countries on both sides of the Florida Strait - who do not have diplomatic relations with each other - and because, in her judgment, her husband had "absolutely" been turned into a chess pawn.
"As a marriage counselor, it's hard for me to understand this because of course nobody's going (to do anything) if they don't talk. Cuba needs resources and we have them and we can help them improve their economy and their country if we would just sit down to talk, but unfortunately there are a lot of people who don't want that," she complained in discussing her view of the state of bilateral relations.
Her frustration at the lack of progress in her husband's case has forced her to take the matter to the court of public opinion, and she hopes that well-known individuals will join her cause.
"If we could identify the proper person, we certainly would do it ... On Cuban television they're showing (African American actor) Danny Glover, they love him," joked Judy, who has visited her husband three times since 2009.
Judy thanked former President Jimmy Carter and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for their - albeit fruitless - intercession in the matter, but she added that "it takes two to tango" and the Cuban authorities "have not been clear about what they want."
On Monday, Judy took part in a vigil in front of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington at which she said that her 62-year-old husband was "depressed" and "hopeless," adding that he had lost 45.4 kilos (100 pounds) and is suffering from several medical problems.
She added that Cuban authorities are allowing him to receive mail from friends and relatives and medicines prescribed by his doctor in the United States, and she noted that U.S. State Department personnel are visiting him each month.
But Judy denied that Alan, to whom she has been married for 41 years, had offered himself in "exchange" for the five Cubans imprisoned in the United States after being convicted of espionage.
"That's wrong. Alan doesn't see any similarity between himself and 'the five,' and the only thing they have in common is that they are in prison," she emphasized, adding that "as far as the U.S. is concerned, the release of the five is not on the table."
"We have presented various proposals and unfortunately (the Cuban authorities) have not accepted them," she said.
The Cuban Interests Section refused to comment on the matter, but the Havana government has said that it will not release Gross unilaterally.
On Thursday, several lawmakers headed by Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Sen. Benjamin Cardin are scheduled to make brief speeches before a full session of the U.S. House of Representatives while they circulate a letter of solidarity with Alan Gross.
At the start of the Jewish Sabbath, the Jewish community will offer up prayers for his release as part of a budding international campaign.
"I know that there are other important things in the world, but I don't want this case to be treated as a small blip on the radar," Judy emphasized.