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TMCNet:  U.S. lawmakers meet in Cuba with Alan Gross

[February 20, 2013]

U.S. lawmakers meet in Cuba with Alan Gross

Havana, Feb 20, 2013 (EFE via COMTEX) -- Two members of a U.S. congressional delegation visiting Cuba met with compatriot Alan Gross at the Havana military hospital where the American contractor is serving a 15-year sentence for subversion.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, told reporters here Wednesday that he had a long conversation with the 63-year-old prisoner.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat who represents a district in Gross's home state of Maryland, was also present, sources at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana told Efe.

The entire delegation was received later Tuesday by Cuban President Raul Castro.

Those talks centered on "the continuing obstacles and the need to improve relations ... in the interest of both countries," Leahy said.

"I had very good talks with President Castro," the senator said. "And I'll talk to President (Barack) Obama when I get back and I will fill him in on those talks. I'll also give him my recommendations." The Gross case since December 2009 has been an additional source of friction between Cuba and the United States, who have not maintained diplomatic relations since 1961.

Gross was detained in Havana in possession of satellite communications equipment he was planning to distribute among Cuba's Jewish community under a contract with a firm hired by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Havana says Gross was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion on the Communist-ruled island. Last August, Cuba's highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on the American five months earlier.

The U.S. government and Gross's family insist the contractor did nothing wrong and are demanding his immediate release.

Havana has suggested it would release Gross in exchange for the return of five Cuban intelligence agents convicted in the United States of espionage. EFE arj-sam/bp

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