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US Renews Calls for Cuba to Release Alan Gross

Cuba's President Raul Castro (R) talks with Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the New York-based National Council of Churches (L) as a translator aids the dialogue about imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross, in Havana, Cuba, November 30, 2011.
Cuba's President Raul Castro (R) talks with Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the New York-based National Council of Churches (L) as a translator aids the dialogue about imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross, in Havana, Cuba, November 30, 2011.

The United States is renewing calls for Cuba to release imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who on Saturday will have served two years behind bars on state security charges.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called Friday for Havana to free the contractor immediately, saying it is "past time" for Gross to be allowed to return home to his family, where he belongs.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner also made similar comments in a statement on Gross.  

"I did want to note that tomorrow, Alan Gross will begin his third year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba. He was arrested on December 3, 2009, and later given a 15-year prison sentence by Cuban authorities for simply facilitating connectivity between Havana’s Jewish community and the rest of the world," said Toner.

Toner described Gross as a 62-year-old husband, father and dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries.

Gross was arrested for bringing communications equipment into Cuba while working for a private firm contracted with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The company says he was working for USAID's Cuba democracy program, bringing Internet access to Cuba's Jewish community. Gross has said his actions were not intended to be a threat against the Cuban government.

Gross's wife, Judy, said in an interview with VOA that she recently visited her husband in prison and found him depressed and angry. Judy Gross says the U.S. government could be doing more to gain her husband's release and she wants the United States and Cuba to "work something out."

Besides Judy Gross, Alan Gross has received visitors such as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

The latest visitor was Reverend Michael Kinnamon, the general secretary of the U.S. National Council of Churches. He discussed his meeting at a press conference Friday in Havana.

"We met with Alan Gross for a considerable amount of time: 45 minutes or an hour.  We talked about his sense of certainly being unjustly accused," said Kinnamon.

Kinnamon also said he was not there to pass judgment on the validity of the case.

Several weeks ago, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson visited Cuba, but failed to secure Gross's release.

New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez said the Cubans, through their continued detention of Gross, have shown the world "the true nature of the regime," which he said is sustained through violence, tyranny and repression of even the most basic human and civil rights.

Senator Menendez is calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to demand Gross's release and repeal regulatory changes that Menendez says have "provided an economic lifeline to the regime" through a historic easing of travel and remittances to the island. Menendez chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee.

The case has further strained relations between the United States and Cuba, which do not have formal diplomatic ties.  A decades-old U.S. embargo against Cuba remains in effect, and Obama said it will stay in place until Havana takes steps toward democratic reforms.

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