Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Richardson has yet to meet with jailed American in Cuba

    Richardson has yet to meet with jailed American in Cuba
    From Shasta Darlington, CNN
    September 9, 2011 — Updated 1702 GMT (0102 HKT)

    – American's release is key to improving U.S.-Cuba relations, Richardson
    – The former New Mexico governor is seeking to get Alan freed
    – The State Department calls it a private trip by Richardson, but
    supports his efforts
    – Cuba says Gross was trying to set up connections

    , Cuba (CNN) — Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who
    arrived in Cuba this week to try to negotiate the release of jailed
    American contractor , said Friday he has not been allowed to
    meet with him.

    Richardson said he won't leave Cuba until he has an opportunity to meet
    with Gross. He arrived in Havana Wednesday.

    "I was informed by the Cuban government that one of my requests — to
    see Alan Gross in his — would not be possible," Richardson
    told reporters Friday. "I feel that is something that I need to do. I
    promised his wife, Judy, that I would visit him. There are reports of
    Mr. Gross' deteriorating."

    Richardson had planned to leave Saturday afternoon, but said he will now
    stay until he sees Gross.

    "My main message is that the key to improving relations between the U.S.
    and Cuba — which has been one of my objectives — is the release of
    American Alan Gross," he said.

    An exclusive report Wednesday by CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation
    Room" said Richardson was invited by the Cuban government for the
    specific mission of trying to negotiate the release of Gross. Richardson
    is expected to spend "the next few days" in Havana, Blitzer reported.

    "We are aware of Gov. Richardson's trip to Cuba and have been in contact
    with him," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told CNN. "While
    Gov. Richardson is traveling as a private citizen, we certainly support
    his efforts to obtain Alan Gross' release."

    A statement issued Wednesday on behalf of the Gross family said, "We are
    pleased that the Cuban government invited Gov. Richardson to Havana."

    "We welcome any and all dialogue that ultimately will result in Alan's
    release," the statement said. "We are grateful to Governor Richardson
    for his continued efforts."

    Last month, Cuba's highest court upheld the 15-year sentence imposed on
    Gross for trying to set up illegal Internet connections on the island,
    according to Cuban state media reports.

    Gross, 62, was jailed in December 2009, when he was working as a
    subcontractor on a U.S. Agency for International Development project
    aimed at spreading democracy. His actions were deemed illegal by Cuban

    Gross says he was trying to help connect the Jewish community to the
    Internet and was not a threat to the government.

    The case plunged U.S.-Cuba relations to a new low after signs of thawing
    when President Barack Obama took office. The State Department has said
    no progress will be made until Gross is released.

    Former President Jimmy Carter visited Cuba earlier this year and tried
    to secure the aid worker's release on humanitarian grounds, arguing that
    Gross' mother and daughter are battling cancer. But he went home

    U.S. officials say they hope the Cuban government will consider
    releasing Gross early now that the courts have had their say.

    The Gross family statement expressed hope that Richardson and Cuban
    authorities "are able to find common ground that will allow us to be
    reunited as a family before the Jewish High Holy Days," which begin on
    September 28 this year with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.