By Julian Pecquet - 12/03/13 01:14 PM EST
President Obama is coming under bipartisan pressure to help free a U.S. government sub-contractor on the fourth anniversary of his incarceration in Cuba.
The president received a letter from Alan Gross on Tuesday requesting his “personal involvement” to ensure his release while Gross's family demonstrated outside the White House. Separately, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel released a statement critical of the administration.
“We have lost count of the number of people from the U.S. and beyond who have pleaded with the government of Cuba to release Alan on humanitarian grounds,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). “I repeat that plea today and urge the Obama Administration and the international community to redouble their efforts and seek new ways to bring Alan home and reunite him with his family. Anything less runs the danger of appearing as though we have left one of our own behind.”
In his letter to the president, sent through the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana and obtained by The Washington Post, Gross says he feels “abandoned.” Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was convicted to 15 years in prison in 2009 on charges of trying to undermine the communist state; he says he was merely providing radio equipment to Jews on the island.
“As I reflect on these last four years, I find myself asking the same question – why?” Gross wrote. “Why am I still here? With the utmost respect, Mr. President, I fear that my government – the very government I was serving when I began this nightmare – has abandoned me.”
Secretary of State John Kerry testified earlier this year that Havana was holding Gross as a bargaining chip to ensure the release of five Cuban spies arrested in 1998 on espionage and other charges. Kerry said that was a non-starter “because there's no equivalency.”
Engel's statement follows a bipartisan letter signed by 66 senators last month urging the president to “act expeditiously to take whatever steps are in the national interest to obtain [Gross's] release.” Earlier in the month, 14 other senators urged the president to demand his “immediate and unconditional release.”
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