American jailed in Cuba on hunger strike

Alan Gross, an American subcontractor for the US Agency for International Development who was imprisoned in Cuba in 2009, has gone on a hunger strike to press for his release, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Gross launched the fast on April 3 to protest his "inhumane treatment" and call on both Cuba and the United States "to resolve this shameful ordeal," he said in a message relayed to AFP by lawyer Scott Gilbert.

"Once again, I am calling on President (Barack) Obama to get personally involved in ending this stand-off so that I can return home to my wife and daughters," Gross said.

Gross was arrested in December 2009 for allegedly distributing telecommunications equipment to members of Cuba's Jewish community under a USAID contract.

He was tried and convicted of "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state," and is serving a 15-year sentence.

The latest development follows disclosures that USAID created a Twitter-like social network from 2009 to 2012 to enable Cubans to debate conditions on the island among themselves.

The White House, while acknowledging it was USAID funded, has denied that the ZunZuneo network was part of a covert operation to stir unrest against Cuba's communist government.

"I am fasting to object to mistruths, deceptions, and inaction by both governments, not only regarding their shared responsibility for my arbitrary detention, but also because of the lack of any reasonable or valid effort to resolve this shameful ordeal," Gross said.

Gross has not been linked to ZunZuneo.

But Gilbert said, "Once Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety even further by running a covert operation in Cuba."

"USAID has made one absurdly bad decision after another," he added.

Gilbert said the 64-year-old Gross has lost 110 pounds in prison and was in failing health.

Cuba has rebuffed multiple appeals to show clemency and release Gross.