U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked the Vatican on Tuesday to intercede in helping free American-Jewish contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban jail.
Kerry said in a meeting Tuesday with the Vatican’s secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin, they discussed Cuba and the need for respect for freedom of religion and human rights in the island nation.
“I raised the issue of Alan Gross and his captivity, and we hope very much that there might be able to be assistance with respect to that issue,” Kerry told reporters following the meeting.
Gross, 64, a subcontractor for the State Department on a mission to hook up Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet, was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba. The Maryland resident is serving a 15-year sentence for “crimes against the state.”
Edward Alex Lee, the U.S. acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, met with Gross late last week while in Havana for migration talks with Cuba. He said that the Gross case is a key issue in the troubled relationship between the United States and Cuba.
The Cuban government has indicated that it wants the United States to allow the return to Cuba of five spies in prison or on probation in the U.S. in return for negotiations on Gross.
Gross says he has lost 100 pounds since his imprisonment and suffers from painful arthritis. He reportedly leaves his shared cell once a day for one hour.
In a letter sent last month, Gross asked President Obama to personally help secure his release.JTA