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American once wrongly imprisoned in Cuba says Bernie Sanders commended the communist country to his face — while visiting him in prison


'How could he be so insensitive to make that remark to a political hostage — me!'

JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

An American who was wrongfully imprisoned in Cuba for five years during Barack Obama's presidency is accusing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) of telling him he doesn't understand why others think the communist country is so bad while visiting him behind bars.

Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 while working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development to expand internet access the country's small Jewish community, according to an NPR report about their recent interview with Gross.

In 2014, more than four years into his imprisonment, Sanders visited Cuba as a part of a congressional delegation along with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and former Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.). While in the country, the senators held a one-hour meeting with Gross.

It was during that meeting, which took place while Gross was still facing many more years in prison, that Sanders allegedly commended the communist country. From NPR:

"He said, quote: 'I don't know what's so wrong with this country,' " Gross recalled.

Sanders' campaign declined to comment about the meeting with Gross, and Tester said he did not recall the discussion.

A source close to Heitkamp said the then-North Dakota senator remembered that Sanders seemed to disregard the meeting with Gross and that an uncomfortable exchange occurred, but did not remember the exact remark.

Gross recalls that he had pleasant conversations with Tester and Heitkamp but that Sanders mostly remained quiet during the meeting, until toward the end when he made the comments.

"I just think, you know, it was a stupid thing for him to do," he told NPR. "First, how could he not have seen the incredible deterioration of what was once the grandeur of the pre-Castro era. And two, how could be so insensitive to make that remark to a political hostage — me!"

Gross, who opposes Sanders for president, added that he is going public about the comments now because they have become "relevant" in lieu of Sanders' renewed defense of Castro's communist regime in Cuba.

In a recent "60 Minutes" interview, Sanders doubled down on remarks he made in the 1980s applauding Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's literacy program.

"It's unfair to say that everything is bad," he argued during the interview. "When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing even though Fidel Castro did it?"

After taking heat and facing intense scrutiny over the comments in the following days, Sanders tripled down and then quadrupled down on his talking points, later arguing that Castro gave health care to the Cuban people, too.

"For him to make those statements demonstrating a basic lack of a grasp on reality is problematic to me. I don't want to see this guy in the White House," Gross said.

All in all, Gross spent 1,841 days behind bars in Cuba before finally being released in exchange for the U.S. government releasing three Cuban spies. While in prison, Gross lost five teeth and more than 100 pounds and allegedly faced repeated threats of torture and hanging.

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