MIAMI, Florida (AFP) – Alan Gross, the American Jewish contractor imprisoned for five years in Cuba before a thaw in relations between Havana and Washington, said in an interview with AFP that he would return to the island “in a heartbeat” despite his ordeal.
Gross, interviewed in Miami, said he still believes passionately in the mission that took him to Cuba — spreading “connectivity” to the island famous for its lack of internet access.
But he said conditions are slowly improving from what they were even a few short years ago.
“What I was able to observe was that despite foreign citizens coming to Cuba using internet, if a Cubano would walk into a hotel and tried to use the internet they would either be thrown out or arrested,” he said on the sidelines of a conference in Miami.
“By June of 2013 all of that changed, the laws changed in Cuba. Internet became legal for all Cubanos,” Gross said.
The two-day Cuba Internet Freedom Conference wrapped up in Miami on Tuesday, with Gross one of its key participants. The gathering was sponsored by The Free Cuba Foundation, a US-based group working for democracy on the communist-ruled island.
Cuba freed Gross on humanitarian grounds in December 2014 at the request of the United States, five years after arresting him.
He was arrested for distributing communications equipment to members of the island’s Jewish community while working as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development.
Gross denies that he was engaged in espionage, or in trying to spread a political message to Cubans.
“It’s very consistent with the better part of my career in enabling people to have connectivity,” he told AFP, adding that his work in Cuba involved bringing to the island “only with the technology, no content, no democracy, none of that stuff. Only the technology.”
He added that he is heartened that the work he gave up five years of his life for — the spread of internet access in Cuba and around the world — seems to be taking hold.
“It’s a message that says internet freedom is at the forefront of our thinking now, because so many aspects of our lives are associated with our ability to connect,” Gross said.
“What I’m taking away from this is that many more people are now aware how important that vehicle is in order to live fulfilling lives.”