Zuckman Crosses Cultures in Quest to Free Cuban Prisoner

Jill Zuckman
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
Add to Briefcase
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 »
ARE “OPEN TO NEGOTIATION”
Sens. Paul, Cruz, Johnson and Lee Oppose Senate Health Care Bill
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

The four Senators released a joint statement, saying in part, "There are provisions in this draft that repreesnt an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs."

Source:
UNKNOWN IF TRUMP WANTS 2024 GAMES IN L.A.
Trump Meets With International Olympic Committee Today
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump will meet with the International Olympic Committee Thursday amid a battle between Los Angeles and Paris for the right to host the 2024 games. The meeting at the White House will come roughly three months before members of the IOC vote on which of the two cities will welcome the Olympics during what could be the final year of Trump's presidency, should he win re-election. Trump has remained largely silent on whether he plans to fight for the U.S. to receive the games in 2024."

Source:
TRUMP SUGGESTED THERE WERE TAPES
No Comey Tapes
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Trump tweeted Thursday afternoon, "With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are "tapes" or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings."

Source:
DEVELOPING
Senate Healthcare Bill In Trouble?
4 hours ago
BREAKING
ALTERED, STOLE VOTER INFO
Russian Hacking More Extensive Than Previously Reported
4 hours ago
BREAKING

"The hacking of state and local election databases in 2016 was more extensive than previously reported, including at least one successful attempt to alter voter information, and the theft of thousands of voter records that contain private information like partial Social Security numbers. ... Congressional investigators are probing whether any of this stolen private information made its way to the Trump campaign. ... The House Intelligence Committee plans to seek testimony this summer from Brad Parscale, the digital director of the Trump campaign."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login