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August 1, 2014 / 5 Av, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Cuba’

US State Dep’t: Alan Gross Begins Fourth Year of Unjust Imprisonment

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Mark C. Toner, Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department, released the following statement on Monday:

“Tomorrow Alan Gross will begin his fourth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba. He was arrested on December 3, 2009 and later given a 15-year prison sentence by Cuban authorities for simply facilitating communications between Cuba’s Jewish community and the rest of the world.

“Mr. Gross is a 63-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries.

“Since his arrest, Mr. Gross has lost more than 100 pounds and suffers from severe degenerative arthritis that affects his mobility, and other health problems. His family is anxious to evaluate whether he is receiving appropriate medical treatment, something that can best be determined by having a doctor of his own choosing examine him.

“We continue to ask the Cuban Government to grant Alan Gross’s request to travel to the United States to visit his 90-year-old mother, Evelyn Gross, who is gravely ill. This is a humanitarian issue.

“The Cuban government should release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs.”

Wiesenthal Center Officials Ask Ecuador to Intercede for Alan Gross

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Officials of the Simon Wiesenthal Center met with Ecuadorian authorities to seek their support in asking Cuba to release American prisoner Alan Gross.

The meetings came on the sidelines of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Latin American gathering of Jewish communities in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

Sergio Widder, the Wiesenthal Center’s Latin American director, and Dr. Shimon Samuels, its director of international relations, in separate meetings with Ecuador’s deputy justice minister, Carmen Simone Lasso, and the Justice Ministry’s legal adviser, Marco Prado, requested “the humanitarian intervention of Ecuador — in view of its close bilateral relations — to urge the Cuban authorities for an early release of U.S. citizen Alan Gross.”

Widder told JTA that Lasso did not comment on future steps regarding the Gross case. Lasso expressed her support for Holocaust education in Ecuador, he said.

Gross, 63, of Potomac, Md., was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for “crimes against the state.” He was arrested in 2009 for allegedly bringing satellite phones and computer equipment to members of Cuba’s Jewish community while working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency on International Development.

“We believe that President Rafael Correa Delgado is best-placed to convince Havana to make a humanitarian gesture,” Samuels and Widder told Ecuadorian officials.

On Sunday, more than 500 rabbis urged the release of Alan Gross, citing the possibility that he has a cancerous growth, based on a recent assessment of his medical records by a U.S. radiologist.

Also, the Wiesenthal Center expressed its concern at the growing influence of Iran in Ecuador and its anti-American, ALBA bloc partners of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

“This represents a potential danger of Iranian-supported Hezbollah terrorist networks abusing Ecuador’s hospitality as a springboard for expansion throughout South America,” Samuels said.

Three US Jews Still Held Hostage Overseas

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

“There are, I think, almost 3,000 Americans in foreign jails. Almost all of them are in there for doing something.”

That is the assessment given to JNS.org by U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-NY), a leading advocate for the freedom of 53-year-old Brooklyn flooring contractor Jacob Ostreicher – who, according to his supporters, is wrongly imprisoned in Bolivia and therefore falls outside the “almost 3,000 Americans” cited by Turner.

Ostreicher’s situation is one of three high-profile cases of American Jews overseas who remain either controversially imprisoned or held hostage.

In early October, lawyers for 63-year-old Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for trying to bring that country’s Jewish community Internet access, announced that a doctor who reviewed Gross’s medical records found a tumor in his right shoulder that may be cancerous. The tumor is a “potentially life-threatening medical problem that has not been adequately evaluated to modern medical standards” by Cuban doctors, according to Dr. Alan A. Cohen.

Alan Gross in Jerusalem with wife Judy.

Since that revelation, Cuba has been “surprisingly quiet in response, and I say surprisingly because typically they tend to be very aggressive at responding to claims about Alan’s situation, and I think the detailed nature of Dr. Cohen’s assessment has flummoxed them and they’re not quite sure how they can respond,” said Gross lawyer Jared Genser.

Gross, who lived in Potomac, Md., received a 15-year prison sentence even though he was working with “peaceful, non-dissident, Jewish groups” in Cuba, according to the U.S. Cuba convicted him of “crimes against the state.”

In August, Gross’s lawyers filed a petition asking the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to conclude that Cuba had violated Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – a treaty that guarantees freedom of expression and the rights to receive and disseminate information freely through any media of choice – by imprisoning Gross.

Cuba “didn’t point to anything [Gross] did beyond provide publicly available computer equipment to Jewish communities down in Cuba, and that falls squarely within the protections for article 19 of the ICCPR,” Genser said, making his ongoing detention “a flagrant violation of Cuba’s obligations of international law.”

Cuba has 60 days to respond to the UN petition. Gross’s team is expecting the UN arbitrary detention working group to hear the case in mid-November and to issue an opinion in mid-December. The group’s opinions are not binding under international law and there is no enforcement provision that could compel Cuba to comply, but Genser said a ruling in Gross’s favor could still be a significant step.

On Capitol Hill, the push for Gross’s freedom received broad bipartisan support in September, with 44 U.S. senators signing a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro asking for Gross’s release.

Ultimately, said Genser, it needs to be “the president and the secretary of state who are going to resolve this case, and my hope is that regardless of who wins the election on Nov. 6, that either President Obama or a president-elect Romney will be in position to make a new set of moves toward the government of Cuba after the election is over.”

* * *

Jacob Ostreicher traveled to Bolivia in December 2010 to oversee rice production and was arrested in June 2011 on suspicion of money laundering and criminal organization. No formal charges have ever been brought against him.

On Aug. 31 this year, Ostreicher was denied bail. Congressman Turner, who represents the section of Brooklyn where Ostreicher lived, explained in a phone interview that according to Bolivian law, “you have to be charged within an 18-month period.”

Turner and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) are among the consistent advocates for Ostreicher’s cause. The problem, according to Turner, lies within the U.S. State Department, whose involvement, he said, was limited by virtue of being “bound by their own rules.”

Despite the “preponderance of evidence” showing Ostreicher’s innocence, Turner said that State Department officials have “their own bureaucratic procedures” and “don’t want to get out of their comfort zone.”

“They respect Bolivian law even when the Bolivians are not following it,” Turner said. “I think this is a time for outrage and not following bureaucratic procedures. It’s as simple as that.”

Jewish Contractor in Cuban Jail May Have Tumor

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Jailed Jewish-American contractor Alan Gross may have a cancerous tumor that needs to be treated, his lawyer said.

Gross has an unidentified mass behind his right shoulder, according to reports. Cuban doctors declared the mass to be a hematoma that would reabsorb over time.

CT and ultrasound scans of the mass conducted by the Cuban doctors were sent to Gross’ lawyers in the United States.

“Gross has a potentially life-threatening medical problem that has not been adequately evaluated to modern medical standards,” U.S. radiologist Dr. Alan Cohen said in a statement released by Gross’ attorney Jared Genser.

Cohen said in his statement that Gross should be treated at a U.S. hospital and that the mass should be biopsied. A “soft tissue mass in an adult who has lost considerable weight must be assumed to represent a malignant tumor unless proven to be benign,” the doctor said, according to Reuters.

Gross, 63, of Potomac, Md., was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for “crimes against the state.” He was arrested in 2009 for allegedly bringing satellite phones and computer equipment to members of Cuba’s Jewish community while working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency on International Development.

Last month, a Cuban Foreign Ministry official rejected claims by Gross’ wife, Judy, that Gross was in ill health, and also said Cuba was willing to negotiate his release with U.S. officials, reportedly in exchange for five Cuban spies, four of whom remain in jail in the U.S.

Gross reportedly has lost more than 100 pounds since his arrest and his family says he is suffering from degenerative arthritis. His mother is dying and one of his daughters has cancer.

It’s My Opinion: A Perilous Journey

Friday, August 17th, 2012

A dilapidated old boat recently came ashore in South Florida. The rickety vessel was a small, old fishing boat. Eighteen passengers were crammed aboard. Its engine was recycled from an old Soviet automobile and had a fuel leak. A tree branch propped up the sail. The hull was cracked.

The “Esperanza” – the Spanish word for hope – arrived in Miami from Cuba last Wednesday. The journey was perilous.

The human condition has a strong component of self-preservation. What could possibly drive individuals to take such a dangerous voyage? What circumstances would justify the risk to human life?

Fidel Castro was the sweetheart of the Cuban people when he came to power 52 years ago. The population took to the streets chanting his name. They thought the country would undergo a change. They thought everyone would be equal and prosperous.

Fidel led the charge against the rich. He confiscated their mansions to convert them into apartments for the poor. He advocated a slew of government-centered programs in health care, education and jobs. He was the patriarch who would care for all needs. He also would tell his compatriots what to think and what to believe. His efforts were a dismal failure. The Communist system does not work. It has failed everywhere it has been tried.

Cuba today is a decimated country. Most of the population lives in a primitive state of abject poverty. There is no commerce, no hope. The job creators – manufacturers and businesses – fled to friendlier places. The desperation is palpable.

The Cuban balseros (rafters) have risked their lives on many occasions to escape Cuba. They have come in leaky boats, inner tubes tied together and rafts.

The Cuban exile community is a hard-working population that has enjoyed success in America. The American dream has always been the ideal of equality of opportunity, not equality of accommodations for all. Many Cubans have risked their lives to escape Castro’s tyranny. Obviously, to them, life in those circumstances was not worth living.

Elections in America are coming soon. We should take this opportunity to appreciate American democracy.

An Interview with Rabbi Moshe Zuriel

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Did you ever wonder how someone becomes a Torah scholar? I don’t mean just any old neighborhood rabbi who is able to quote a few sources (which for me is still very impressive) but rather someone who has an in depth understanding of the underlying ideas that all the various sources are trying to convey. Although this may sound like a trivial matter, the truth is there are few people who really acquire such an understanding.

One such person I’ve had the privilege of knowing for several years is Rabbi Moshe Zuriel. Although his appearance could cast him as just another “black hat” haredi rabbi living in Bnei Brak, the Rav (Hebrew for Rabbi) is anything but that. For starters he’s an ardent Zionist and strong advocate of Jewish settlement anywhere in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). For many years, until health slowed him down, he would periodically give lectures in various communities throughout Judea and Samaria in order to strengthen the morale of the people living there. In addition, he’s penned one of the more well-known books on the works of Rabbi Avraham Kook, a five volume set called Otrzot Ha-Ra’ayah. For anyone who is familiar with Israel, this in itself separates the Rav from most of the residents in Bnei Brak since in the haredi world Rabbi Kook is more or less a persona non grata.

A prolific writer known, amongst other things, for both providing indexes to some of the most difficult material (ie. an index for the Vilna Gaon’s commentary on the Tikunei Ha-Zohar) as well as for collating tremendous amounts of scattered sources (in Otzrot Emunah he provides 170 different books as reference material for over a hundred topics of Jewish religious thought), the Rav has written roughly thirty books on a wide variety of Torah subjects as well as countless articles. Although fluent in English as a result of spending most of his youth in America, all of his published works are in Hebrew. For anyone interested, many of his articles can be found on the Beit El Yeshiva site.

In order to better understand how he acquired such vast knowledge as well as hear his story firsthand (everyone has a story), I recently made a long overdue visit to the Rav in his Bnei Brak apartment.

From Germany to Cuba to America

Yoel Meltzer (YM): It’s good to see you Rav Zuriel, I haven’t been here in years. I want to go back in time with you and hear your story. If I’m not mistaken, you were born in Germany in 1938. If so, how did you get out of Germany?

Rabbi Moshe Zuriel (MZ): My father was a Polish citizen and my mother was German born. My father was thrown out of Germany as a foreigner half a year before my mother was also ejected from the country. She was placed on a train with four children and a few hundred other Jews, all of us deported to Poland. We were the last train before the border was closed. The Poles however didn’t want any more Jews, which turned out to be a godsend since otherwise we would have ended up in a concentration camp. At the same time, however, the Germans didn’t want us back as well. So we were stuck on the train for two days, all of us crushed together. Being a small infant, only six months old, I fainted from hunger. My mother told me that someone gave me half a banana which in turn kept me alive.

The Germans then decided to let us come back for two weeks to make preparations for leaving. They didn’t care where we went as long as we left Germany. However, since no country in Europe was ready to accept a few hundred Jewish refugees we decided to hire a ship, at our own expense, and set sail for South America in the hope that some country would let us in. My father, who until then was in Switzerland, was also with us on the ship.

Similar to the case in Europe, no one in South America wanted us and we were rejected by nine countries – Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, etc. We were on the ship for about two months until finally some wealthy Jews in New York gave serious bribe money to the leadership in Cuba in order to convince them to let us stay in Cuba. They agreed and we were there for two years with all of our expenses being paid by the same New York Jews.

YM: And after two years, where did you go?

MZ: We were then allowed into America and we settled in New York (Brooklyn). I grew up there and as a youth I was involved in the Bnei Akiva youth movement where I developed my love for Israel. Eventually I studied at the Ner Yisrael Yeshiva in Baltimore during the day while at night I studied at Loyola University in order get a degree in education. I wanted to be a teacher in Israel so I needed to get a degree.

Alan Gross Revelations Could Hamper Campaign For His Release

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

WASHINGTON – For the Jews of Cuba, it was the ultimate Internet connection. The high-tech equipment that U.S. contractor Alan Gross brought with him to Cuba in 2009 to help connect local Jews to the Internet reportedly included a SIM card that makes it almost impossible to track satellite signals and is generally unavailable to civilians, even in the United States.

That was one of the revelations in an Associated Press report earlier this month that has exacerbated concerns Cuba will hang tough on its stated determination not to release Gross, a 62-year-old Maryland Jewish man who was in Cuba to do work for the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for crimes described as “acts against the integrity of the state.”

Yet the AP report, apparently based on mission reports by Gross, helps reinforce the claim that Gross, his family, his employer and the State Department have made all along – that Gross’s mission was straightforward and not at all nefarious: He wanted to hook up Cuba’s Jews with their brethren worldwide.

The AP article “doesn’t change what we’re doing,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “We never argued the matters that were raised” regarding Gross’ activities, he said.

According to the AP story, Gross understood the dangers he faced. That is evident both in his reports – he called his enterprise “risky business in no uncertain terms” in one memo – and his actions. He recruited Jewish tourists to help bring in the devices, and the most damaging evidence, according to AP, was the sophisticated SIM card he has in his possession.

Yet the story also makes clear that Gross, who was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009, hardly fits the profile of a spy, which is how Cuban President Raul Castro described him.

“Alan Gross was working as a contractor for the U.S. government to promote democracy in Cuba,” said William Daroff, the Washington director for Jewish Federations of North America.

“He was convicted by a court in a country that does not respect the rule of law. His now over two years in a Cuban prison is unjust and we demand the Cuban government release him and that the American government use all of its influence to bring him home.”

The Jewish Federations and the local Jewish Community Relations Council in Washington have taken the lead in pushing publicly for Gross’s release, including petitions and vigils outside the offices of Cuban representatives.

“It hasn’t had any impact at all, if anything it’s only strengthened peoples’ resolve,” Ronald Halber, the director of the Washington JCRC said, of the AP story. The JCRC is set to launch on Wednesday a petition at FreeAlanGrossNow.com urging Pope Benedict XVI to make the case for Gross’s release when he visits Cuba next month.

Gross is said to be ill, having lost 100 pounds of the 250 pounds he weighed before his arrest. His daughter and mother have suffered bouts with cancer during his incarceration.

Those close to the case say privately that the AP’s revelations would not be news to the Cuban authorities. However, they are concerned that making them public will inhibit any Cuban willingness to release Gross.

The AP story describes Gross’ mission as setting up hundreds of Cubans – particularly the island’s 1,500 Jews – with WiFi hotspots for unrestricted Internet access as part of the democracy promotion by USAID, a State Department program. The story depicts Gross’s interactions as primarily with Cuba’s Jews.

“He did nothing wrong other than to connect peaceful non-dissident Jewish communities to the Internet,” said Steven O’Connor, the spokesman for Development Alternatives Inc., the USAID contractor that hired Gross.

Gross’s wife, Judy, addressed the AP story’s claims for the first time on Sunday in a breakfast with congregants at Congregation Chizuk Amuno in Baltimore.

“To suggest that Alan had any ulterior motive other than to help Cuba’s small Jewish community improve its access to information through the Internet and Intranet is categorically false,” she said in prepared remarks shared exclusively with JTA.

“Unfortunately, in countries like Cuba, the free flow of information is forbidden, and therefore it should come as no surprise that Alan had to be careful and discreet while he was in Cuba.”

She added, “That members of the media and the blogosphere continue to debate and analyze Alan’s work – a discussion in which the participants openly speculate as to his motives and his actions, despite having never met the man or even spoken with him – while he rots in a Cuban prison without the opportunity to freely and openly respond, is deplorable.”

Judy Gross described her husband’s mission as setting up unfettered Internet access to communicate with Jews outside Cuba and an Intranet so the communities – some in remote areas – could communicate with one another, “allowing them to share things like recipes, prayers and even sports scores.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/global/alan-gross-revelations-could-hamper-campaign-for-his-release/2012/02/22/

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