The mother of Alan Gross, the U.S. government subcontractor who has been in a Cuban jail since 2009, and who begged to be able to see her as her cancer worsened, has died.
Evelyn Gross, 92, passed away on Wednesday in Plano, Texas after battling lung cancer.
Even as she battled her illness, the woman pleaded with her son to end a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment.
Gross was arrested in Cuba while working to set up Internet access.
The Maryland man had been working covertly in Cuba as a subcontractor for the U.S. government's Agency for International Development.
Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence, asked to see his mother before she died and had promised to return to Cuba if he had been allowed to visit.
When he began a hunger strike this year, his mom persuaded him during a phone call to end it.
Her death inspired renewed condemnations of Cuba from critics of the communist government’s prolonged jailing of Gross.
“Evelyn Gross loved her son dearly, and it’s a shame on the Castro regime that she had to spend the final years of her life pleading for his freedom,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican whose family is from Cuba.
“This is a tragic example of just how cruel and heartless the Castro regime is. No son and no mother deserve the fate that Alan Gross and his mother faced over the last five years," Rubio said. “We should work for his immediate unconditional release and ensure that this already tragic story can at least end with Alan Gross’ freedom and reunification with his surviving family.”
Ric Herrero, executive director of CubaNow, assailed the Cuban government for refusing to extend the Gross family the kind of flexibility the United States did to a jailed Cuban spy who asked to be allowed to see a dying relative.
“Her passing is made all the more tragic by the fact that Alan had asked for a furlough to visit her before she died, which the Cuban government coldly denied," said Herrero in a statement. "By denying his request, particularly after a U.S. court granted a furlough to Cuban spy Rene Gonzalez to visit his dying brother in 2012, the Cuban government has only lived up to the expectation that they have no sincere intention to improve relations with the U.S."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.