Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Carter in Cuba for meetings with Raúl, Ortega

    Posted on Monday, 03.28.11

    Carter in Cuba for meetings with Raúl, Ortega
    By Juan O. Tamayo

    Former President Jimmy Carter arrived in on Monday to discuss
    Raúl 's economic reforms and how to improve U.S.-Cuba relations,
    stymied by the imprisonment of U.S. government subcontractor Alan P. .

    Carter is the most important U.S. figure to visit Cuba, both under Fidel
    Castro's rule in 2002 and now under his younger brother Raúl. The older
    Castro has praised him as the president who tried hardest to normalize
    U.S. relations with Havana.

    His first scheduled meeting, with leader of Cuba's tiny Jewish
    community, strengthened speculation that he will push Havana to free
    Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor serving
    a 15-year sentence.

    Gross, a 61-year-old from Potomac, Md., was in late 2009 after
    he delivered sophisticated equipment to members of the Jewish community
    and other non-government groups so they could communicate better with
    each other and the outside world.

    Havana officials have branded the Washington campaign to improve Cuban's
    access to the , part of its effort to support civil society on
    the island, as a thinly disguised effort to subvert the communist

    The Obama administration has repeatedly said that any significant
    improvements in U.S. policies toward Cuba will not be possible until he
    is freed as a "humanitarian gesture."

    Dissidents in Havana reported that authorities arrested at least two
    government critics who staged a protest Monday near Havana's Cuban
    Capitol to coincide with Carter's arrival. They identified the two as
    Eriberto Liranza Romero and Boris Rodríguez Jiménez, both members of the
    Cuban Youths for Democracy Movement, and added that other dissidents had
    been detained Sunday night to block their participation in the protest.

    Wearing a white guayabera, Carter was greeted at the Havana by
    Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and the top U.S. and Cuban
    diplomats in Havana and Washington, Jonathan Farrar and Jorge Bolaños.

    After his meeting with the Jewish community, Carter met with Cardinal
    Jaime Ortega, whose unprecedented talks with Raúl Castro last year led
    to the release of more than 100 political prisoners. About 90 were freed
    only after they agreed to go into in , and 12 remain in Cuba.

    The Carter schedule released by the Cuban government did not say whether
    he would meet with dissidents or Fidel Castro. The former Cuban leader
    usually meets with important visitors to the island.

    Carter is not expected to make any comments until he holds a news
    conference in Havana's massive Conventions Palace on Wednesday, just
    before he flies back to the .

    During his six-day visit to Havana in 2002, he met with Fidel Castro as
    well as dissidents and delivered a nationally televised speech that
    urged improvements in Cuba's record.

    The Atlanta-based Carter Center announced last week that the former
    president was making the trip to Cuba as a "private mission" and at the
    invitation of Raúl Castro.

    He was accompanied by his wife, Rosalynn; Robert Pastor, the White
    House's point man on Cuba during the Carter presidency 1977-1981;
    Jennifer McCoy, director of Americas programs at the Carter Center; and
    Carter Center President John Hardman.

    U.S. relations with Havana reached their warmest point since 1959 under
    Carter, who negotiated the establishment of diplomatic missions in each
    other's capitals and allowed U.S. tourists to visit the island.
    Relations were frozen again when Fidel Castro increased his troop
    deployments in Africa and then unleashed the Mariel boatlift.

    The Carter Center's announcement said the former president wanted to
    learn more about the market economic reforms that Raúl Castro is
    pushing, and the Communist Party congress scheduled for the second half
    of next month — its first since 1997.

    Gross' wife, Judy, issued a statement over the weekend saying she hoped
    Carter — who last year won the release of a U.S. citizen jailed in North
    Korea during a visit to that country — would intercede on behalf of her

    "If he is able to help Alan in any way while he is there, we will be
    extraordinarily grateful," she declared. "Our family is desperate for
    Alan to return home, after nearly 16 months in . We continue to
    hope and pray that the Cuban authorities will release him immediately on
    humanitarian grounds."