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American jailed in Cuba says he feels like a hostage

By the CNN Wire Staff
May 4, 2012 -- Updated 2343 GMT (0743 HKT)
Alan Gross, in an undated photo with his wife, Judy, was subcontracting on a USAID project when he was arrested.
Alan Gross, in an undated photo with his wife, Judy, was subcontracting on a USAID project when he was arrested.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alan Gross was arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison
  • He describes the charges against him as "laughable"
  • The Cuban government hasn't yet responded to his request to visit his dying mother
  • His case sank U.S.-Cuba relations to a new low

(CNN) -- A jailed American contractor said Friday he feels like a "hostage," in Cuba, where he is serving a 15-year prison sentence on charges of subversion.

Alan Gross was arrested in 2009 while working as a subcontractor on a U.S. Agency for International Development project aimed at spreading democracy.

Gross' family and attorneys say that he traveled to Cuba to help link the country's small Jewish community to the Internet. But Cuban authorities say Gross imported sensitive communications equipment to connect dissidents.

"I feel like I'm a hostage," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, speaking by phone from the Carlos J. Finlay Military Hospital in Havana.

"The president of the Dominican Republic told me two years ago when he visited, he said: 'Alan, I hope you realize this is not about you.' And at the time, I could understand that. I could intellectualize it -- that it wasn't about me, that it was an effort on the part of the Cuban government to express its disdain to the United States," he said.

"But right now, it is about me. It's about my family and it's about my mother. And I'm taking this very personally," he said.

He asked that be allowed to visit his dying mother, who is suffering from cancer and getting along in age.

"I have a 90-year-old mother who has inoperable lung cancer. She's not getting any younger, and she's not getting any healthier," he said.

"My lawyer and I have written, on more than one occasion, to the government of Cuba requesting permission for me to visit her. I would return to Cuba. You can quote me on that," Gross said.

Earlier this year, his attorney said the mother's final wish is "to be able to see her son once more before her battle with cancer is lost."

The Cuban government has not yet responded to their request.

Gross, 63, has been held in Cuba for two years and five months. He's lost about 100 pounds during that time but said his overall condition is fine.

After having not been allowed to see the sun for a year and a half, Gross said he is now permitted to go outside. The quality of his food has also improved, he said.

Last year, Cuba's highest court upheld the 15-year sentence imposed on Gross for committing crimes against the security of the state -- charges Gross described as "laughable."

His case sank U.S.-Cuba relations to a new low after initial signs of thawing when President Barack Obama took office. The State Department has said no progress will be made until Gross is released.

"If I weren't in this situation, I would be laughing about it because I'm about as much of a threat to the security and the state as the chair is that I'm sitting on right now," he said.

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