Jesse Jackson arrives in Cuba on mission of reconciliation

HAVANA Fri Sep 27, 2013 7:20pm EDT

U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (C) walks at the National hotel in Havana September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (C) walks at the National hotel in Havana September 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Enrique de la Osa

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HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson arrived in Cuba on Friday where he said he hoped to facilitate improved relations with the United States and see imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross.

Jackson is on a private visit to the communist-run island being hosted by the Roman Catholic Church.

He has visited Cuba a number of times and met with former President Fidel Castro.

"The church is concerned about peace ... and Cuba's relations with the United States and the rest of the Caribbean. I hope we can facilitate that," he said.

Asked if he would meet with Gross, Jackson said, "I don't know, but I would like to."

Gross has been jailed in Cuba since December 2009 in a case that has put the brakes on a brief improvement in long-hostile U.S.-Cuba relations.

In a March 2011 trial, Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison for installing internet networks for Jewish groups under a secretive U.S. program the Cuban government considers subversive.

The United States insists Gross was merely helping the local population get connected as part of a democracy-building project.

"I appeal to His Excellency President Raul Castro to release Mr. Alan P. Gross on humanitarian grounds," Jackson said in an open letter to Castro in March 2011.

Jackson told reporters before entering Havana's Hotel Nacional that he had other items on his agenda.

He was in Colombia earlier this month where he urged Colombia's FARC rebels to free former U.S. Marine Kevin Scott Sutay, whom they kidnapped in June.

Cuba is hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and more than 30 of the guerrilla organization's commanders are in Havana.

A Cuban source said Jackson may meet with some of them while in Cuba.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Tom Brown and Peter Cooney)

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