- U.S. State Department contractor Alan Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence
- His wife, who visited him last week, says his health "continues to deteriorate"
- "Mr. Gross's health is normal and he exercises regularly," a Cuban Foreign Ministry official says
Cuba's government on Wednesday disputed reports that the health of imprisoned U.S. State Department contractor Alan Gross is failing while he serves a 15-year sentence on the island.
Gross' wife, Judy, visited him in prison last week and said that Gross, 63, has been wasting away in Cuba since his arrest in 2009 for bringing in banned communications equipment as part of a State Department program to spread democracy.
"Alan's health continues to deteriorate," Judy Gross said in a written statement. "He has lost 105 pounds and developed degenerative arthritis and a mass behind his right shoulder blade. While his spirit remains strong, I fear he is not going to survive this terrible ordeal."
The statement also said that lawyers for Gross had filed a petition with the United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention protesting his imprisonment.
But the Cuban government released a statement disputing that Gross is ill.
"Mr. Gross's health is normal and he exercises regularly," Foreign Ministry official Josefina Vidal said in the statement. "Cuba reiterates that it is willing to discuss a solution to Mr. Gross's case and continues to wait for a response."
The solution that Cuban government officials have suggested for months could involve a prisoner swap: Gross for five Cuban intelligence agents jailed in the United States.
Four of the agents are serving lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons while a fifth has been released but remains on probation in the United States.
U.S. officials have rejected the idea of a swap, saying the Cuban agents were deep-cover spies while Gross' activities focused on bringing into Cuba banned communications equipment to connect the island's small Jewish community to the Internet.
Cuba has celebrated the five operatives as heroes, saying their intelligence work was meant to prevent attacks on the island from hard-line Cuban exile communities in South Florida.
In Havana on Wednesday, preparations were under way for a music concert to mark the 14th anniversary of the arrest of the five men in the United States.