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Alan Gross, held in Cuba for four years, launches hunger strike

By Kevin Liptak

Alan Gross, the former American subcontractor who's spent four years imprisoned in Cuba, launched a hunger strike last week in a bid to spur both the United States and Cuba to resolve his case.

Gross has called on President Barack Obama to become personally involved in securing his release from the small Cuban jail where he's been incarcerated since 2009. Gross' lawyer on Tuesday said the U.S. government had put a resolution to his case in jeopardy after secretly setting up a social media network designed to help Cubans communicate.

"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 wrote in a statement distributed by his U.S.-based public relations firm.

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

Gross, who was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was arrested, was charged by a Cuban court in 2011 of being an American spy. USAID has said he was in the country working on a U.S. government project setting up satellite internet connections.

Earlier this week, the U.S. government acknowledged the aid agency had secretly built a Twitter-like social media network meant to help Cubans communicate, though officials denied the website was meant to undermine the island's leftist government. The website was first made public in a report from the Associated Press.

Gross spoke to his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, from a prison in Havana on Tuesday, calling the social media effort "the last straw" in his determination to go on the hunger strike.

In a statement, Gilbert criticized USAID for setting up the network, called Zunzuneo. Gilbert said the disclosure had put Gross case in danger.

In a statement Tuesday, a lawyer representing Gross criticized USAID for setting up the network, called Zunzuneo. Scott Gilbert said the disclosure had put Gross case in danger.

"Once Alan was arrested, it is shocking that USAID would imperil his safety even further by running a covert operation in Cuba," Gilbert said. "USAID has made one absurdly bad decision after another. Running this program is contrary to everything we have been told by high-level representatives of the Obama Administration about USAID's activities in Cuba."

Gross last ate solid food in the evening of April 2, though he continues to drink water, according to his lawyer, and so far on the hunger strike, he's lost 10 pounds.

Since Gross was arrested, he's lost more than 110 pounds, according to his representatives. They note he's confined in his cell for 23 hours a day, where lights remain on throughout the night.

The 64-year-old still has 11 years remaining on his 15-year sentence.

"I've been begging our government for more than four years to bring Alan home," his wife, Judy Gross, said on Tuesday. "I'm worried sick about Alan's health, and I don't think he can survive much more of this."