June 9, 2011 / 9:56 PM / 8 years ago

U.S. group meets American contractor in Cuba jail

HAVANA (Reuters) - Jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross, serving a 15-year sentence for crimes against the Cuban state, is in good spirits, but is anxious to go home, a member of a U.S. delegation said after visiting him on Thursday.

Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile said the group met with Gross for two hours at a Havana prison to find out how he is being treated and to deliver a letter from his Washington area synagogue.

“He has been incarcerated for 18 months and he’s in good spirits, but he wants to come home. He’s not bitter, but he asked us to make sure we not forget him,” Brazile said before entering the Havana airport for a flight to the United States.

She was part of a group including former Representative Jane Harman that was brought to Cuba by the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas, which advocates better U.S.-Cuba relations.

Gross, 62, has been jailed since December 3, 2009 when he was arrested for distributing Internet equipment under a secretive U.S. program promoting political change in communist-run Cuba.

He was convicted in March of “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state” and sentenced to 15 years in jail, but is awaiting the outcome of an appeal to Cuba’s highest court.

The case brought to a halt a brief warming in U.S.-Cuba relations under President Barack Obama, who eased the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and initiated talks on immigration and postal service issues.

The U.S. government has said Gross was helping Jewish groups get Internet access and committed no crime.

Brazile said Gross has not been forgotten by the Obama administration and “is a topic of high level conversation not only within the government, but with other third parties.”

Former President Jimmy Carter visited Gross in March and called for his release, saying he did not believe Gross had committed a serious crime.

Carter also said the United States should release five Cuban agents who have been jailed in U.S. prisons since 1998 and who Cuba feels were wrongly convicted of espionage-related charges.

Gross’ wife, Judy Gross, has asked the Cuban government to release him because both their daughter and his mother have cancer.

Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Vicki Allen

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