The mother of an American serving a prison sentence in Cuba for covertly setting up internet access there has died, and it seems doubtful her son will be allowed to return for her funeral despite the urging of U.S. officials.
The family of 92-year-old Evelyn Gross said Wednesday that she died in Plano, Texas. She had suffered from lung cancer.
Her son, Alan Gross, was arrested in Cuba in 2009. The Maryland man had been setting up hard-to-detect Internet networks for the island's small Jewish community as a subcontractor for the U.S. government's Agency for International Development. Cuba considers such programs to be an affront to its sovereignty and sentenced Gross to 15 years for crimes against the state.
Gross had a close relationship with his mother, even in prison. He called regularly, and when Gross began a hunger strike this year, his mom persuaded him to end it.
Gross had previously asked to visit his ill mother before she died and promised to return to prison in Cuba if he were allowed to visit.
On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the State Department said that officials "urged the Cuban government to grant Mr. Gross a humanitarian furlough so that he can travel to the United States and be with his family during this time of mourning."
But the Cuban government appeared to reject that possibility. Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, a top official for U.S. affairs at Cuba's Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that neither the American nor Cuban prison systems allow prisoners to travel abroad.
Vidal's statement also drew a parallel between Gross' case and that of the so-called Cuban Five, intelligence agents who were sentenced to long jail terms in the United States in 2001. She noted that the U.S. did not allow one of the five, Gerardo Hernandez, to return to Cuba when his mother died. The statement did not say when she passed.
However, in 2012 and 2013, another one of the Cuban Five, Rene Gonzalez, was allowed to return to Cuba. Gonzalez was granted visits with his brother, who had lung cancer, and for the funeral of his father. Unlike Gross, however, Gonzalez had been released from prison and was serving three years on probation at the time of the visits.
After Gonzalez returned to Cuba in 2013 he was allowed to renounce his dual U.S. citizenship and stay in Cuba permanently. Another one of the five, Fernando Gonzalez, returned to the island in February after serving more than 15 years behind bars.
Cuban officials have repeatedly linked Gross' case with that of the Cuban Five. However, U.S. officials have said the cases are different and refused to link them.