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US Senators Meet Castro, Discuss Alan Gross' Release

Senators Leahy and Shelly met with Cuban President Raul Castro to discuss release of Alan Gross, who is serving 15 year jail sentence.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 2/27/2012, 5:43 PM

Castro
Castro
Reuters

United States Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont met with imprisoned American Jew Alan Gross as well as Cuban President Raul Castro to discuss the detainee’s release, but said Friday that he doesn’t expect Gross to be released any time soon, MSNBC news reported.

Senator Leahy met with Gross on Thursday afternoon at a Havana military prison. He and Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, then met with President Castro.

These talks were the first high-level meeting between the U.S. and Cuba since former President Jimmy Carter met with Castro in April 2010.

Leahy said the late-night meeting was cordial and open.

"You can imagine how far that went," Leahy said in a phone interview Friday with The Associated Press. He added, "we have a long way to go" to win Gross's release.

“The 62-year-old Maryland native is serving a 15-year jail term for spiriting satellite and other communications equipment onto the island while on a USAID-funded democracy-building program. Cuba considers the programs an attempt to destabilize the government, and Gross was convicted of crimes against the state, not espionage,” MSNBC stated.

The Gross family says he should be released on humanitarian grounds because his mother and daughter both have cancer.

Leahy said Castro agreed that Gross “was no spy,” but that Castro brought up the case of five Cuban agents sentenced to long jail sentences in the United States.

Leahy said Castro “made it very clear that while we may be concerned for Mr. Gross and have humanitarian reasons to be, they are very concerned about the five (agents) and have humanitarian and family reasons too."

Leahy said Gross appeared in reasonably good spirits during the visit, but that he also indicated his two years of detention had taken a toll on his health, MSNBC reported.

"He obviously wants to leave. He feels that his health has been endangered," Leahy said.