Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Carter meets Cuban Jews, no talk of jailed U.S. man

    Carter meets Cuban Jews, no talk of jailed U.S. man
    By Jeff Franks – Mon Mar 28, 5:37 pm ET

    (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter met with Cuban
    Jews on Monday at the start of a private three-day visit to the island,
    but he did not discuss with them a U.S. aid contractor jailed for
    allegedly providing access to Jewish groups.

    Local Jewish leader Adela Dworin told reporters Carter did not talk
    about contractor Alan or any political topics during a stop at
    Cuba's main Jewish headquarters, located in Havana's Vedado district.

    "That was not talked about," she said when reporters asked about Gross.
    "In reality, we did not talk about anything political."

    She said Carter asked about religious freedom and was told "that we
    openly practice our religion."

    Carter, 86, was kept well away from the press, but he shouted that he
    would speak at a press conference on Wednesday. He later met with Cuban
    Catholic leader Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
    [ For complete coverage of politics and policy, go to Yahoo! Politics ]

    Gross, 61, was given a 15-year sentence this month after a Cuban
    court convicted him of providing illegal Internet access to Cuban
    groups, including the communist island's small Jewish community.

    His case has worsened relations between Cold War enemies Cuba and the
    United States, at odds since a 1959 revolution toppled a U.S.-backed
    and put in power.

    Relations had warmed slightly under U.S. President Barack Obama before
    Gross's arrest in December 2009, but the United States said there will
    be no more progress until Gross is free.

    Carter, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, may try to lay the
    groundwork for Gross' release during his visit, but Cuban officials
    reportedly have told him not to expect to take the American home when he
    leaves on Wednesday.

    The former president and his wife Rosalynn were invited by Cuba's
    government, which gave them a low-key welcome on Monday at Havana's Jose
    Marti International .


    Carter made a previous visit to Cuba in 2002 and remains the only U.S.
    president, sitting or former, to go to the island since the revolution.

    At that time, Fidel was president. Now 84, stepped down
    three years ago and was succeeded by younger brother Raul, 79.

    Carter was to meet with on Tuesday.

    The Carter Center in Atlanta said this trip was a "private,
    nongovernmental mission" for Carter to learn about Cuba's new economic
    policies and discuss ways to improve U.S.-Cuba ties.

    Since leaving office after his 1977-1981 term, Carter has occasionally
    served as an unofficial diplomatic trouble-shooter , including a mission
    last August to North Korea to secure the release of an American
    imprisoned there.

    Gross was working under a U.S. program promoting political change on the
    island. Cuba says the program is subversive.

    The U.S. government has said Gross was in Cuba only to provide Internet
    access to Jewish groups and committed no crime.

    Many think Cuba may be open to freeing Gross soon, partly due to
    humanitarian concerns. Gross's 26-year-old daughter and 88-year-old
    mother are both suffering from cancer.

    During his one term in office, Carter took the most significant steps
    yet to improve U.S.-Cuba relations.

    In his 2002 visit, he urged Washington to end its long trade
    against Cuba. He also called for democracy and better human rights in
    Cuba and boosted dissidents by publicly mentioning their movement.

    The Castros complain regularly that Obama has done little to help
    relations, despite his stated desire to seek a "new beginning" with Cuba.

    Obama has eased U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba, allowed a free flow of
    remittances to the cash-strapped island and initiated new talks on
    migration and postal service issues.

    Cuba has released most of its political prisoners and is modernizing its
    economy, but Obama has said it must do more if it wants better relations.

    (Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank; Editing by Pascal
    Fletcher and Deborah Charles)