April 13, 2012

Judith E. Gross is a psychiatric social worker in Maryland. Her husband, Alan Gross, was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison in Cuba for “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the State.”

There is nothing more agonizing than losing a loved one. The pain is made all the worse if there is no closure, no ability to say goodbye, no comforting one another.

René González, one of five Cuban intelligence officers — known as the “Cuban Five” — convicted in the United States of espionage and related charges, attained supervised release in Miami last year after 13 years in prison. A federal judge recently granted González’s humanitarian request to return to Cuba temporarily to say goodbye to his brother, who has terminal brain and lung cancer. I hope they find solace in their time together.

When U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard responded to González’s plea last month, I thought she made the right and moral decision. I began to hope the Cuban government would respond similarly to the situation of my husband, Alan Gross.

Alan has been imprisoned in Cuba since Dec. 3, 2009, for providing improved Internet access to three Cuban Jewish communities as part of his work under a subcontract with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Alan was not and is not a spy, as Cuban President Raul Castro has publicly agreed. Among the many other differences between González and my husband is that Alan is not yet able to say goodbye to a terminally ill loved one.

Alan’s 89-year-old mother has inoperable lung cancer. She longs to see her son. So far, the Cuban government has not decided to reciprocate the humanitarian gesture extended to González. Are Cuba’s leaders really that cold and uncaring? Why will they not allow Alan the same humanitarian privilege granted to González?

There had been reason recently to think Cuba was open to such “humanitarian reciprocity.” Although Alan was held in Cuba without charge for 14 months and then summarily tried and sentenced, Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, told the New York Times in September that he did not “see any way in which we can move on towards a solution of the Mr. Gross case but from a humanitarian point of view and on the basis of reciprocity.”

Last month, Cuba’s vice foreign minister, Josefina Vidal, told MSNBC: “We have conveyed to the United States government our willingness to have a dialogue to look for a solution on this case on [a] humanitarian reciprocal basis and we are waiting for a response.”

Just a few days after Vidal’s comments, Cuba received its response: Rene González arrived in Havana on March 30 to visit his suffering brother, thanks to Lenard’s humanitarian order.

I also felt hopeful because, early last month, my husband similarly made a direct request to Castro for permission to visit the United States for two weeks to be with his mother on what may be her final birthday. Alan had just learned that his mother’s lung cancer had taken a turn for the worse.

Alan and his mother, Evelyn, who turns 90 on Sunday, have always shared a special bond. Before his arrest, they spoke several times a day. Their phone calls were filled with stories, jokes and lots of laughter. Unfortunately, that warm tradition has been degraded to the occasional heart-wrenching phone call from a son who knows his mother is fading with each passing minute. Their laughter has been replaced by tears. I see the way they are tormented by the fact they may never see each other again. Both recognize that their fate lies in Castro’s hands, just as González’s fate rested with Lenard.

This week we are celebrating Passover — the Jewish holiday commemorating the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. We are reminded of the struggles our ancestors encountered so we might experience true freedom. As a family, we remain hopeful that Castro will likewise make the honorable, courageous and humanitarian decision to allow Alan to visit his mother. The anticipated chorus of responses on both sides — attempting to distinguish crimes, sentences and even governments — is irrelevant if the decision maker’s motivation is purely humanitarian, as was Lenard’s.

Cuban authorities, in particular Castro, should demonstrate whether they are the humanitarian people they claim to be, seriously interested in reciprocity and honoring their words — or whether their words are empty rhetoric, intended all along to deceive.

As Cuba’s vice foreign minister told MSNBC last month: We are waiting for a response.