HAVANA, March 29 (UPI) -- Visits with the Jewish community and a Catholic church leader marked the first day of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba.
Carter also plans to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro before his visit ends Wednesday. HavanaTimes.org reported.
The former U.S. president is in Havana to learn about the economic policies being implemented in Cuba and about the case of Alan Gross, the Maryland resident sentenced to 15 years in prison for distributing illegal telecommunications equipment, experts on U.S.-Cuba relations said.
The arrest and sentencing of Gross -- who had delivered the equipment to members of the Jewish community and other non-government groups so they could communicate with each other and the outside world -- has been an impediment in efforts to try to improve U.S.-Cuban relations
Havana officials labeled the U.S. campaign to improve Internet access in Cuba as a thinly veiled effort to subvert the communist government. The Obama administration has said any significant improvements in U.S. policies toward Cuba won't happen until Gross is freed as a humanitarian gesture.
On Monday, Carter visited with leaders of the Jewish community and toured some of their facilities, and also met with Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega, whose talks with Castro last year led to the release of more than 100 political prisoners, The Miami Herald reported. About 90 were freed after agreeing to accept exile to Spain and 12 remain in Cuba.
Dissidents in Havana said authorities arrested at least two government critics who protested Monday near the Capitol in Havana, the Herald said.
The Cuban visit is the second for Carter.