A seven-member congressional delegation hoping to gain the freedom of U.S. government contractor Alan Gross will return unsuccessful after meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro. Gross, 63, has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, when he was convicted of smuggling banned communications equipment into the country. Working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Gross’ intent was to bring Internet service to the Jewish communities on the island. Cuban officials viewed his actions as U.S. intrusions, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.”
“I wish he could be released,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., told CNN before leaving Havana. “I think the point has been made. Obviously it will take more negotiations. The man is not a spy. He should go home.”
During the two-day trip Leahy was joined by senators Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. and representatives Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. A Cuban statement mentioned that the delegation also met with parliament president Ricardo Alarcon and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
Gross’s case has been a longstanding point of conflict in U.S.-Cuba diplomacy, resulting in multiple efforts to negotiate his release. Leahy visited last year, and former President Jimmy Carter met with Castro in 2011.
“I think everyone realizes that this is not the 1960s,” Leahy told CNN Wednesday. “This is a different century, a different world. We have to adapt to it. Not to change their government or they to change ours.”
The United States has held a longstanding embargo and sanctions against Cuba since the 1959 coup that brought Fidel Castro to power.