Alan Gross upset by Bernie Sanders' praise of Cuban government

Alan Gross is not feeling the Bern.

The former aid worker who spent who spent over four years behind bars in Cuba said he can’t tolerate Democratic president candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ praise for some of the Cuban government’s accomplishments.

Sanders was one of three senators who visited Gross while he was in a Cuban prison after being accused of being a spy and also helped to secure the aid worker’s eventual release. Gross, who was jailed in 2009, was eventually released in December 2014.

“I had the impression that Bernie didn’t see that there was so much wrong with the country that he was visiting,” Gross said in an interview with Politico.

Gross added that while he never actually heard Sanders praise Cuban policies, he said that “from personal experience, that – personal observation – the system in Cuba is a failure.”

Sanders went to Cuba along with Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Jon Tester of Montana. Besides discussing his release from Cuban incarceration, the three lawmakers also presented gross was a large bag of peanut M&Ms and cookies.

“I had a feeling it was Tester and Heitkamp that brought it,” Gross. “I don’t know why. Bernie just didn't impress me as a peanut M&M guy.”

Gross said that he also felt angry at Sanders’ Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, while he was in prison. He said that he felt that the then-secretary of state was taking too long to discuss his release from a 15-year prison sentence for undermining the Cuban state.

He added, however, that his feelings have changed.

“I was a little angry at Secretary Clinton, because she was secretary of state when this happened and [it] falls under her supervision,” he said. “I’m not angry at her now. In fact, I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton.”

Despite having a strong dislike of Castro’s Cuba, Gross supports dropping the decades-long Cuban embargo.

When asked how he could support easing restrictions on a government that imprisoned him, he joked: “How can a Jew drive a Mercedes? ... I mean, what’s one got to do with the other?”

Gross has continued to assert that he was not a spy working in Cuba, but that he travelled to Cuba to set up Internet access for the communist island's small Jewish community.

While he was in prison, Gross lost more than 100 pounds, and five of his teeth fell out due to lack of nutrition. He went on hunger strikes and spoke at the time of wanting to end his life. And he said he had become disillusioned with the U.S. government as he considered the possibility of dying in prison.

"It was ridiculous. I wasn't a spy. I wasn't a smuggler. I wasn't a criminal," he told the Associated Press in November 2015. "... U.S. government, you want to send people to countries where we have no diplomatic relations and run cockamamie programs? Go ahead, but leave me out of it."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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