Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Carter: Not in Cuba to get jailed contractor

    Posted on Tuesday, 03.29.11

    Carter: Not in Cuba to get jailed contractor
    Associated Press

    — Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday he has met Cuban
    officials and discussed the case of a U.S. government contractor who was
    sentenced to 15 years in for crimes against state security, but
    said he is not in Cuba to bring the man home.

    Carter said he talked with Cuban officials about , who was
    in December 2009 while working on a USAID-backed
    democracy-building project, but added, "I am not here to take him out of
    the country."

    "We are here to visit the Cubans, the heads of government and private
    citizens. It is a great pleasure for us to return to Havana," the former
    president said in Spanish during a visit to a senior center, accompanied
    by his wife, Rosalynn Carter.

    "I hope we can contribute to better relations between the two countries."

    Already poor relations have been strained by the conviction of
    this month.

    Washington has encouraged Carter to lobby for the release of Gross, who
    was convicted of illegally importing telecommunications equipment.

    Gross has said he was helping improve access for the island's
    small Jewish community, though Jewish leaders here have denied dealing
    with him.

    Havana considers USAID programs such as the one Gross was working for to
    be aimed at undermining the government.

    Carter, who arrived Monday, was scheduled to meet with Cuban President
    Raul later Tuesday as part of his three-day trip to explore ways
    to improve ties soured by a half-century of opposition.

    Washington and Havana have not had formal diplomatic relations since the
    1960s, and the maintains economic and financial sanctions
    on the island, one of the biggest points of contention for the Cuban

    Havana also wants the United States to release five Cubans convicted of
    being unregistered foreign agents and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.

    The "Cuban Five" are considered national heroes by the government, which
    says they were monitoring anti-Castro groups in the United States and
    posed no threat to U.S. national security.

    In previous public comments, Cuban officials have played down the
    possibility of swapping Gross for the agents.

    U.S. officials say no thaw in relations is possible while Gross is in

    Carter previously visited Cuba in 2002, becoming the only former U.S.
    president to do so since the 1959 revolution. On that six-day tour, he
    met with then-President and criticized both Washington's
    economic against the island and the lack of political plurality
    in Cuba.

    During the Carter administration, the two nations enjoyed
    better-than-usual ties and opened interest sections, which some
    countries maintain instead of embassies, in their respective capitals.

    Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, an outspoken critic of the Castros, said
    Carter was wrong to meet with Cuban officials and oppose the embargo.

    "Instead of supporting the lifting of sanctions against a state sponsor
    of terrorism, President Carter should demand the Castro regime to allow
    free and fair elections, of the press, the establishment of
    political parties and the unconditional release of all political
    prisoners," Diaz-Balart said in a statement.