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American imprisoned in Cuba vows he will not spend another birthday there

HAVANA -- An American subcontractor jailed in Cuba after working to set up an Internet network that would escape detection by the Cuban government is vowing that he will not spend another birthday there, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Alan Gross left open what he meant by his comment and did not specify whether he would attempt another hunger strike, his lawyer said. He will be 65 on May 2.

Gross was jailed 4 1/2 years ago for smuggling communications equipment into Cuba on behalf of a USAID program deemed illegal by the communist government.

Gross was visited by his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, on Tuesday at the Havana military hospital where he is confined. He is gaunt, missing a tooth, barely able to see out of his right eye and limping from pain in both hips, Gilbert said. Gross is down more than 100 pounds since him imprisonment, his lawyer said.

Gross spends 23 hours a day in a cell that he shares with two other prisoners under constant guard.

He began a hunger strike earlier this month to protest what he called the lack of concern for human beings by both the Cuban and U.S. governments, and said that they should show "less malice and derision toward each other." He later called it off at the request of his 91-year-old mother.

Gross is very frustrated, volatile and believes that if President Obama does not take action on his case he could remain in jail for another decade, his lawyer said. He is unwilling to do that, the lawyer said.

A poster of Alan Gross held during a rally in his support in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House, in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 3, 2013 PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
Gilbert said that like other USAID workers around the world, Gross expected his government to protect him if anything happened. Gross made five trips to Cuba on U.S. government work and went back each time and reported to the U.S. government so the least he could expect is that the United States would make serious efforts to gain his release, the lawyer said.

Gilbert also met for two hours on Wednesday morning with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and said he was convinced that the Cuban government wants to sit down with U.S. officials to find a solution that would lead to Gross' release. Gilbert says he has taken the Cuban offer, first voiced to him a year ago, to the State Department and to the White House but it has been rejected.

Both he and Gross say they believe that the Obama administration is Gross' last hope.