The lawyer for U.S. government subcontractor and Maryland resident Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned for more than four years in Cuba, said Wednesday his client is certain he will go home in the next year, be it alive or dead.
Speaking to reporters in Havana after visiting Gross, attorney Scott Gilbert said the American has lost most vision in his right eye, walks with a limp due to hip problems, has lost a tooth and is 110 pounds lighter than at the time of his arrest.
"Alan told me unequivocally that his 65th birthday, which occurs on May 2, will be the last birthday that he celebrates in Havana, one way or the other,'' Gilbert said.
He said Gross is frustrated over his situation but remains hopeful.
"He's also a very determined individual, and Alan means what he says, which is that one year from now if this issue has been resolved, he will come home to his family. If it has not been resolved, he will come home dead,'' Gilbert said.
Gross recently engaged in a hunger strike for nine days but called it off at his mother's urging.
Gross, who is from Maryland, was arrested in Cuba in 2009 after he was caught setting up hard-to-detect Internet networks for the island's small Jewish community on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract. Cuba considers such programs to be an affront to its sovereignty and sentenced him to 15 years for crimes against the state.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said U.S. officials are "extremely concerned'' about Gross' case.
"It's one the secretary (John Kerry) and other officials raised with our interlocutors who have relationships and have discussions with Cuba,'' Psaki said in Washington.
She said U.S. officials have engaged influential third parties to press for Gross' release and "kept the case at the forefront of our discussions.''
Still, Gilbert repeated previous demands for Washington to do more, and specifically for President Barack Obama to get personally involved with the case.
Earlier in the day, Gilbert said, he met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to discuss Havana's offer to talk about Gross' case "without preconditions.''
Cuba has said it also wants to negotiate the fate of three intelligence agents serving long prison terms in the United States. But Washington has been cool to the idea of a prisoner swap, saying their cases are not comparable to that of Gross.
"The Cubans are baffled as to why the United States has seemed so uninterested in sitting down to resolve this issue,'' Gilbert said.
Psaki urged Cuba to release Gross "immediately'' and said his confinement is a major obstacle to improving relations between Washington and Havana.