Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    US cleric: American jailed in Cuba in good spirits

    Posted on Wednesday, 11.30.11

    US cleric: American jailed in Cuba in good spirits
    Associated Press

    HAVANA -- A U.S. government subcontractor jailed for nearly two years
    for bringing restricted communications equipment to Cuba has lost a lot
    of weight but seems in good humor, a prominent U.S. religious leader
    said after visiting the prisoner Wednesday.

    The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, the general secretary of the National Council
    of Churches who is leading a 15-person delegation to the island, gave
    few details of his interview with Alan Gross.

    "Two of us went to see him today. ... We had a good conversation, and
    we're grateful for the government for enabling us to have that visit,"
    Kinnamon told reporters.

    Kinnamon echoed reports from previous visitors who said Gross, 62, had
    dropped more than 100 pounds (45 kilograms) and suffered from other

    "We have concerns for his health, but he's in good spirits," Kinnamon
    said. He said he hoped Gross may be freed on humanitarian grounds, but
    had no knowledge of when or whether that may happen.

    The religious leader later met with Cuban President Raul Castro. State
    television broadcast video of their meeting, but gave no details of what
    was said.

    Gross, a native of Maryland, was arrested Dec. 4, 2009, while working as
    a subcontractor on a democracy-building project funded by the U.S.
    Agency for International Development.

    Cuba considers such programs an affront to its national security, and
    last March he was sentenced to 15 years under a statute governing crimes
    against the state.

    Gross has said he was working to help the island's small Jewish
    community improve its Internet access and was not a threat to the Cuban

    On Monday, his wife, Judy, said Gross had sought reassurance that what
    he was doing was legal, but was told by his company not to ask Cuban

    Kinnamon is the latest in a string of visitors allowed to meet with
    Gross this year, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, a
    delegation of U.S. women leaders and a Washington-area rabbi.

    Judy Gross visited her husband earlier this month for the third time
    since his arrest, and officials at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana
    have also had periodic consular access to the man.

    Kinnamon said he would meet on Thursday with Interests Section diplomats
    to report on his group's trip. He said he would also note the National
    Council of Churches' view that U.S.-Cuban relations should be normalized
    and lobby for change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

    "It's very clear there are issues we have to discuss between our
    countries," Kinnamon said. "But the way to address those issues is in
    the context of mutual respect between nations, and 50 years of animosity
    and embargo simply must stop."

    The New York-based National Council of Churches, an umbrella group of
    U.S. Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations, has long been a
    critic of the U.S. economic and financial embargo against Cuba.

    Supporters of the embargo argue that it pressures for democratic opening
    on the communist-run island by choking off revenue to the government led
    for decades by Fidel Castro and more recently by his younger brother Raul.

    Kinnamon also met Wednesday with relatives of the "Cuban Five,"
    intelligence agents serving sentences in the United States whose return
    is a top priority for Havana. He expressed concern over their case.