Skip to main content

U.S. delegation seeks release of contractor in Cuba

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
February 19, 2013 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)
The U.S. government is applying new pressure on Cuba to release an American contractor, Alan Gross.
The U.S. government is applying new pressure on Cuba to release an American contractor, Alan Gross.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. congressional delegation arrives in Havana
  • Alan Gross has been held since 2009; family says he has health problems
  • Previous attempts to win Gross's release have been unsuccessful

Havana (CNN) -- The U.S. government is applying new pressure on Cuba to release an American contractor, who officials say suffers from chronic health problems.

One of the largest congressional delegations to the island in recent memory arrived in Havana on Monday with hopes of freeing Alan Gross.

Gross is serving a 15-year jail sentence for bringing banned satellite communications equipment into Cuba as part of a State Department program to spread democracy.

Gross, who has been held since 2009, said he was working to connect Cuba's small Jewish community to the Internet. But Cuban authorities said he had imported sensitive equipment to destabilize the government.

Cuban official talks about Alan Gross
2012: Who is Alan Gross?

Gross is battling chronic health problems, according to his lawyers, family and the State Department. The Cuban government has disputed reports that his health is compromised.

The U.S. delegation was led by Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was accompanied by fellow senators Sherrod Brown, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Debbie Stabenow, all Democrats, and Jeff Flake, a Republican. Democratic Reps Jim McGovern and Chris Van Hollen also made the trip.

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure than when we leave in a couple of days to have Alan on the plane with me," Leahy said.

Leahy traveled to Cuba last year with a similar delegation to press for Gross's release.

At that time, the group met with him in a military hospital where he is being held, and also met with Cuban president Raul Castro.

Cuban officials have not publicly commented on the arrival of the new delegation. But previously they have argued for the United States to lift a long-standing trade embargo, remove Cuba from a list of states that finance terrorism, and release five Cuban intelligence agents.

The State Department has rejected the notion of any prisoner swap and has said Havana cannot expect changes in U.S. policy until Gross is freed.

"We need a more mature policy toward Cuba," McGovern told reporters at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana. "The wall that separates our nations needs to be torn down."

The delegation plans to travel to Haiti on Wednesday.

Cuba accuses U.S. of lying about jailed American's health

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Tethered to an IV drip, 71-year-old Shin Young Ja lies under a thin fleece blanket, nursing a broken back and wracked with survivor's guilt.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
Family members of the missing passengers are pinning slim hopes on floundering air pockets.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0934 GMT (1734 HKT)
The Hadza are one of the last communities of hunter-gatherers in the world -- but losing their land.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 0122 GMT (0922 HKT)
In choosing to change a traditional practice, Francis is being as radical as Jesus was in his own time.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
Too weak. Can't handle pressure. Unattractive to sponsors. Susie Wolff has heard it all.
April 20, 2014 -- Updated 0249 GMT (1049 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
It's like finding a needle in a universe-wide haystack. Researchers have located a planet roughly the size of Earth that could be habitable.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0940 GMT (1740 HKT)
Dubai, long champion of all things biggest, longest and most expensive, will soon have some competition from a neighboring country.
ADVERTISEMENT