Zuckman Crosses Cultures in Quest to Free Cuban Prisoner

None

Jill Zuckman
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
See more stories about...
Christopher Snow Hopkins
May 4, 2014, 7 a.m.

When Jill Zuck­man ar­rived at the Car­los J. Fin­lay Mil­it­ary Hos­pit­al in Havana last Tues­day, she was taken in­to a small room with four chairs and a low table with cof­fee, wa­ter, and candy.

Sit­ting op­pos­ite her was Alan Gross, a former sub­con­tract­or for the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tion­al De­vel­op­ment who was ar­res­ted by the Cuban gov­ern­ment four years ago on charges that he had com­mit­ted “acts against the in­de­pend­ence or ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity of the state” after try­ing to bring In­ter­net ac­cess to Cuba’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion. The pris­on­er muttered something that Zuck­man asked him to re­peat.

“On May 2, I turn 65 years old and it will be my last birth­day here,” Gross said. “It means what it means.”

Zuck­man, a man­aging dir­ect­or at SK­DKnick­er­bock­er, is a com­mu­nic­a­tions spe­cial­ist work­ing to have Gross freed. She says the case is one of the most chal­len­ging as­sign­ments of her ca­reer, which she began as a polit­ic­al re­port­er and con­tin­ued as com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or at the Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment.

At the time of the meet­ing, Gross was re­cov­er­ing from a nine-day hun­ger strike. He had once been a burly man but has lost 110 pounds over the course of his im­pris­on­ment. Zuck­man and her two com­pan­ions — Scott Gil­bert, Gross’s lead at­tor­ney, and Emily Grim, an as­so­ci­ate at Gil­bert’s law firm — were as­ton­ished that he was still alive.

“He turns 65 on Fri­day, and I really think that puts [pres­sure on] the two gov­ern­ments,” said Zuck­man, who is work­ing on the case pro bono. “I think [the U.S. and Cuban] gov­ern­ments have to de­cide wheth­er they’re go­ing to make some hard de­cisions and get him out of there, or wheth­er they’re go­ing to have his blood on their hands.”

The case has re­ceived in­ter­mit­tent press at­ten­tion since Gross was ar­res­ted in 2009, yet the primary tar­get of Zuck­man’s ad­vocacy cam­paign is seni­or gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult be­cause we’re not ne­ces­sar­ily try­ing to com­mu­nic­ate to reg­u­lar, every­day people,” she said. “We’re really try­ing to com­mu­nic­ate to the highest levels of both gov­ern­ments.”

Here at home, Zuck­man’s PR cam­paign — and a web­site doc­u­ment­ing the de­teri­or­a­tion of Gross’s health — seems to be get­ting res­ults. In Decem­ber, the White House said that Pres­id­ent Obama was “per­son­ally en­gaged” in the cam­paign to free Gross and had urged world lead­ers to use their in­flu­ence with the Cuban gov­ern­ment to set him free.

Zuck­man, 48, was born in Wash­ing­ton. Her fath­er was a law pro­fess­or at Cath­ol­ic Uni­versity, and her moth­er was a so­cial work­er.

After gradu­at­ing from Brown Uni­versity, Zuck­man be­came a re­port­er for the Mil­wau­kee Journ­al, then re­turned to D.C. to re­port for Con­gres­sion­al Quarterly, The Bo­ston Globe, and fi­nally the Chica­go Tribune. Over the course of her ca­reer, she covered four pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns.

At the be­gin­ning of 2009, Zuck­man left the Tribune to serve as dir­ect­or of pub­lic af­fairs in the Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment un­der then-Sec­ret­ary Ray La­Hood. In the en­su­ing years, she helped La­Hood draw at­ten­tion to the dangers of “dis­trac­ted driv­ing” and also co­ordin­ated the agency’s me­dia re­sponse dur­ing the 2013 gov­ern­ment shut­down, when the Fed­er­al Avi­ation Ad­min­is­tra­tion fur­loughed thou­sands of air-safety in­spect­ors.

Oddly enough, Zuck­man be­came in­volved in the ef­fort to free Alan Gross after meet­ing Gil­bert at a bar mitzvah. A few months later, Gil­bert called Zuck­man to ask if she would be in­ter­ested in help­ing with the case.

“It was com­pletely ran­dom,” she said.

What We're Following See More »
‘PULLING A TRUMP’
GOP Budget Chiefs Won’t Invite Administration to Testify
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The administration will release its 2017 budget blueprint tomorrow, but the House and Senate budget committees won’t be inviting anyone from the White House to come talk about it. “The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees released a joint statement saying it simply wasn’t worth their time” to hear from OMB Director Shaun Donovan. Accusing the members of pulling a “Donald Trump,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the move “raises some questions about how confident they are about the kinds of arguments that they could make.”

Source:
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
1 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
22 hours ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
9 hours ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×