Officials urge Cuba to free U.S. prisoner

Dec. 3, 2012 at 4:06 PM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. leaders urged Cuba to release government subcontractor Alan Gross, who completed his third year in a Cuban prison Monday, so he can return to his family.

"The Cuban government should release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs," the State Department said in a statement.

"Tomorrow [Tuesday], Alan Gross will begin his fourth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba," White House spokesman Jay Carney said during a news briefing. Gross was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009, and later given a 15-year prison sentence "for simply facilitating communications between Cuba's Jewish community and the rest of the world."

Gross, 63, of Potomac, Md., was arrested in Havana then sentenced to prison for delivering sophisticated satellite phones to Cuban Jews on behalf of the U.S. government.

Since his arrest, Gross has lost more than 100 pounds and suffers from severe degenerative arthritis, which affects his mobility, as well as other health issues, Carney said. In addition his mother is gravely ill.

"This is a humanitarian issue," Carney said. "It is essential that he be released for his own health reasons, and it would be incredibly appropriate to allow him to visit his gravely ill mother."

The State Department said it continues to ask the Cuban government to grant Gross' request to travel to the United States to visit his mother.

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