A US congressional delegation is in Cuba to press for the release of imprisoned American-Jewish contractor Alan Gross.
Seven lawmakers led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) arrived in Cuba on Monday for a three-day visit.
The delegation plans to meet with Gross, as well as parliament president Ricardo Alarcon, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and possibly President Raul Castro.
Leahy met with Gross one year ago during a visit to the island nation. During a meeting that same day with Castro, the president brought up the case of five Cuban agents serving long jail terms in the United States. Cuba has linked Gross’ release to the fate of the so-called Cuban Five, according to reports.
The delegation also includes Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, along with Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Gross’s home state.
The delegation would like to bring Gross back to the United States with them, Leahy has said.
Gross was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba for “crimes against the state” — distributing laptop computers and connecting Cuban Jews to the Internet. He spoke virtually no Spanish and traveled to Cuba five times under his own name before his arrest.
Gross’ family and US State Department officials say that Gross was in the country on a US Agency for International Development contract to help the country’s 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet. The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program.
Cuba has expressed a desire to exchange Gross for at least some of the five Cuban intelligence agents who have been sentenced to long jail terms in the United States.
Washington has said publicly that a swap is not in the cards, but there are other points of contention that might be easier to move on, including possibly removing Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terror.
The island made the list in large part because it supposedly harbored members of the Basque militant group ETA and Colombia’s FARC rebels. But ETA announced a permanent cease fire in 2011, and Cuba is currently playing host to peace talks between Colombia and the FARC.
Cuban diplomats point out that even North Korea, which earned global condemnation when it held an underground nuclear test earlier this month, is not on the terror sponsor list.