Cuba to Free 2,900 Prisoners, But Not Alan Gross

Cuban President Raul Castro says he will free nearly 3,000 prisoners on humanitarian grounds, but not US Jewish social worker Alan Gross.

Chana Ya'ar ,

Cuban President Raul Castro
Cuban President Raul Castro
Israel news photo: Agecom Bahia

Cuban President Raul Castro has announced he will free nearly 3,000 prisoners on humanitarian grounds, but not American Jewish contractor Alan Gross.

A State Department spokesman said Saturday the United States was "deeply disappointment" at the news, "especially in light of his deteriorating health."

Castro, who announced the pardons Friday in a speech to lawmakers, said 86 foreigners from 25 countries would be among the 2,900 inmates to be freed, according to Voice of America.

The news followed in the wake of an announcement by the head of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, that he will soon visit the island nation -- before the Easter holiday in the spring.

The news service quoted Cuban media which said those freed would include some convicted of crimes against the state, inmates age 60 and up, those who were ill, women and young prisoners with brief criminal records. Those convicted of crimes such as espionage, murder or drug trafficking were not on the list, according to the report.

Gross, a social worker in his early 60s, has already been incarcerated for two years. He was sentenced to a 15-year prison term earlier this year after having been convicted on charges of crimes against the communist state following his arrest for bringing communications equipment into the country.

He had traveled there on behalf of Development Alternatives Incorporated, a firm subcontracted by the United States government to carry out "democracy building efforts" in Cuba. Authorities in the country had charged the project was "subversive" and targeted Gross as an agent.

His family has appealed for his release on humanitarian grounds, as both his mother and his daughter are suffering from cancer. He, too, suffers from significant medical problems which have been exacerbated by his incarceration.

A letter sent to the Cuban president by American Jewish leaders, appealing for him to release Gross on humanitarian grounds, was ignored.