American Jewish leaders have sent a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro, appealing for the release from prison of Alan P. Gross on humanitarian grounds.
The letter was signed by leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and its 51 member organizations.
The 60-year-old social worker was arrested in Cuba last year after attempting to help the local Jewish community establish an Internet connection to the outside world.
Accused of spying after distributing cell phones to Jewish Cubans, he has lost 90 pounds and all sensation in his right foot since his incarceration in the high-security Villa Marista prison in Havana. Gross is also suffering extreme anguish over his daughter's bout with cancer, the letter stated.
Gross was volunteering under an American program that provides funding and technical support to faith-based organizations. The program is linked to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
In the letter, Conference chairman Alan Solow and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein underscored Gross' commitment to the Jewish concept of “tikun olam” – repairing the world. Noting that he has developed multiple humanitarian projects from the Middle East to Latin America, they wrote, “His work has touched and improved the lives of thousands of people. When Mr. Gross was arrested he believed he was advancing his humanitarian work in Cuba.”
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley noted in a briefing that Gross' actions were “not a crime.”
Although he has languished in prison since December 3, 2009, Gross was formally charged earlier this month with “Acts against the Independence and Territorial Integrity of the State.”
A trial date has been set for March 4. If convicted, Gross could face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.