After four years cooling his heels in a Cuban prison, American Alan Gross has begun a hunger strike he says is a protest against his treatment by both Havana and Washington. Gross, 64, was arrested in 2009 while working for USAID as a sub-contractor to get Internet access to Cuba's Jewish community; as the AP notes, Cuba considers USAID programs thinly-veiled attempts to undermine its government, and Gross was sentenced to 15 years. The timing here gets interesting and tricky: Shortly after Gross' arrest, a separate USAID program launched a "Cuban Twitter"—called ZunZuneo—aimed at sowing dissent. That program was revealed in an AP investigation last Thursday, the same day Gross began his hunger strike.
Gross' lawyer says that story partly drove his client's hunger strike. "Once Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety even further by running a covert operation in Cuba," he says in a statement. "USAID has made one absurdly bad decision after another." USAID's administrator is headed to Capitol Hill this morning to testify before the Senate; ZunZuneo, which the agency has denied was a covert program, is likely to come up. Meanwhile, lawyers say Gross has dropped more than 100 pounds over the course of four years, and his wife said today in a statement she doesn't think "he can survive much more of this."