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Alan Gross Confronts Humanitarianism in the Context of Cuba-US Relations

On Tuesday, Feb. 2, the Winston Center For Leadership and Ethics of the Carroll School of Management, in conjunction with The Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy, presented a lecture featuring Alan Gross, an agent of the United States Agency for International Development and former Cuban hostage, in Gasson 100 at 4:00 p.m.

Gross was invited to speak at Boston College as part of the Clough Colloquium Series, which recognizes individuals who have made noteworthy and indelible contributions as ethical leaders in their respective disciplines and calls upon them to share what they have gleaned from their journey to becoming leaders through symposia, conferences, and public functions.

One night in early December 2009, Alan Gross, a resident of Potomac, Md., was apprehended at his hotel room in central Havana, Cuba, and was wrongfully imprisoned at the Villa Marista Detention Center. Gross had arrived in Cuba a week and a half earlier on a U.S. humanitarian mission, supported by the government, to bring internet access to Jewish communities on the island, and was scheduled to return home the following morning. He would not return home for more than five years.

“On a daily basis, billions of individuals access the internet and enjoy the benefits of free-speech and expression. How wrong could it possibly have been to bring this gift to the Jewish community in Cuba?” Gross pondered.

Gross had come to Havana to espouse and propagate the values and benefits of democracy by helping to make internet service more readily accessible to others — to that end, he had visited synagogues and Jewish leaders across the country, introducing them to search engines and Spanish-language Wikipedia.

He was hired to do the job by a multimillion-dollar corporation, Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), which was itself operating on a generous, $28 million contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). From these funds, DAI and USAID provided $258,274 to Gross for his initial work, and then, a few weeks preliminary to his arrest, approved another $332,334 for a second year. Under the contract, Gross was expected to provide certain markers of his progress: how many internet portals he created, the number of people who logged on, and how much data they utilized.

When officials learned of his actions, Gross was convicted of undertaking “a subversive project” to “destroy the Revolution” in Cuba, and was sentenced accordingly to 15 years in prison. U.S. officials protested staunchly to the indictment, characterizing Gross as a humanitarian with the Cuban populace’s best interests at heart.

In retrospect, Gross defended his mission in Cuba and identified his family, United States Senators and congressmen, and President Obama as sources of his resilience and motivation.

“I did nothing in Cuba that is not done on a daily basis in millions of homes and offices around the world. I had and will continue to have an immense fondness for the people of Cuba,” Gross asserted. “In fact, I would return to Cuba in a heartbeat to continue serving the community by making internet services more accessible to underprivileged populations there.”

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