Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Jimmy Carter to visit Jewish community in Cuba

    Posted on Saturday, 03.26.11

    Jimmy Carter to visit Jewish community in Cuba
    Associated Press

    — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is scheduled to meet with
    Jewish leaders shortly after arriving in Cuba Monday, suggesting that
    his visit will deal partly with the case of a U.S. contractor whose
    conviction has further dented relations between Havana and Washington.

    An agenda released Saturday by Cuba's Foreign Relations Ministry says
    Carter is to visit a Jewish institution. The imprisoned contractor, Alan
    , had said he was trying to improve access for the small
    Jewish community when he was in December 2009.

    The agenda indicates Carter also is scheduled to meet with Cuban
    President as well as Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega
    before leaving on Wednesday.

    The trip is under the auspices of the Carter Center, whose officials
    have given only a general description of the motives for the visit,
    saying the aim is to discuss economic policies and improve relations
    between the U.S. and Cuba.

    U.S. officials have made clear that the recent 15-year sentence imposed
    on Gross is a stumbling block to any rapprochement.

    Gross, 61, was working for Bethesda, Maryland-based Development
    Alternatives, Inc. on a USAID-backed democracy-building project that
    Cuba's government says is aimed at toppling its socialist system and
    described him as a mercenary.

    Gross's wife Judy E. Gross issued a statement on Saturday welcoming
    Carter's mission.

    "If he is able to help Alan in any way while he is there, we will be
    extraordinarily grateful," she said in the emailed statement. "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."

    Carter's 1971-1981 presidency coincided with the least-chilly period of
    U.S.-Cuban relations since shortly after led his rebels to
    power in 1959.

    There have been no diplomatic relations between the countries since the
    1960s and the maintains economic and financial sanctions
    on the island.

    Carter visited Cuba in May 2002 on a six-day tour during which he met
    with then-President Fidel and criticized both Washington's
    and the lack of political plurality on the island.