Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Jesse Jackson appeals to Cuba to release American

    Posted on Tuesday, 03.01.11

    Jesse Jackson appeals to Cuba to release American

    The Obama administration's top diplomat on Latin America has met with
    Cuba's foreign minister to press for the release of a U.S. citizen
    jailed in since December — the latest in a recent string of
    high-level bilateral sessions.
    Associated Press

    HAVANA — The Rev. Jesse Jackson appealed to Cuba on Tuesday to release
    an American contractor facing a possible 20-year sentence on charges of
    trying to undermine the government, saying granting him on
    humanitarian grounds could open the door for better relations.

    Jackson offered to come to Cuba to mediate the release of Alan , a
    61-year-old Maryland native held here since December 2009. Gross, who
    was working for USAID when he was , is set to go on trial Friday
    on charges of "acts against the integrity and independence" of Cuba.

    "I am not making a legal case. I am making a humanitarian plea, a moral
    appeal," Jackson said in a telephone interview with The Associated
    Press. "I hope that Raul () and the governing officials see the
    advantage of letting him go. Every time a is let go, it opens
    the door for increased dialogue and possibilities."

    Jackson, a civil rights leader and former Democratic presidential
    candidate, made clear he was speaking as a private citizen and not on
    behalf of the Obama Administration.

    Jackson has been to Cuba several times and met with both Fidel and Raul
    Castro. In 1984 he helped negotiate the release of 26 Cuban prisoners,
    most of whom left the island. He has made similar trips to Yugoslavia,
    Syria and Iraq to help gain freedom for detained Americans.

    Jackson, 69, said he was available to reprise that role in Cuba and
    added that he would like to come to Havana in any case to meet with
    Gross once the trial is over.

    Jackson, a longtime critic of Washington's 48-year trade against
    Cuba, said it is time for a new U.S. policy toward the island, which has
    been ruled since 1959 by the Castro brothers.

    "Cuba is not a threat to our national security," he said. "We should be
    in meaningful dialogue with Cuba."

    He noted that President Barack Obama recently held a state dinner for
    visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao despite criticisms of that
    country's record, adding that U.S. policy toward Cuba
    "should not remain static 50 years later."

    Gross's family and the U.S. government say he was in Cuba handing out
    communications equipment to the island's small Jewish community, though
    Jewish leaders in Cuba have said they had nothing to do with him.

    The project he was working on was part of a $40 million-a-year USAID
    program to promote democracy and political change on the island.

    U.S. officials have defended the program and said they will never stop
    supporting democracy and openness in Cuba. Opponents of the project have
    criticized it as ineffective and counterproductive.

    American officials have made clear that relations between Cuba and the
    cannot meaningfully improve while Gross is being held.

    Cuban prosecutors announced in February that they would seek a long jail
    term for Gross, a shock to those who thought the situation was close to
    being resolved. Only weeks earlier, a senior State Department official
    was allowed to meet with Gross in custody. U.S. officials said at the
    time they were optimistic he would be released.

    Gross's wife, Judy, has also appealed for her husband to be freed,
    saying he meant no harm. The couple's 26-year-old daughter has cancer
    and is recovering from a double mastectomy, and Gross's elderly mother
    is also sick.

    "I am increasingly worried about Alan's ability to sustain all the
    emotional pain and stress he is under considering the most recent bad
    news from the home front," she said in written response to questions
    sent by the AP last week. "I beg the Cuban government to let Alan come
    home on humanitarian grounds."