Vigils planned for US Jew jailed in Cuba

By Anna Sheinman, September 23, 2011
Alan Gross with his wife

Alan Gross with his wife

Vigils are to be held today in Washington and New York for Alan Gross, an American Jew currently imprisoned in Cuba.

The Cuban interests sections in Washington and the Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York will see American Jews and members of Mr Gross's family protest against the 15 year jail sentence for crimes against the state.

The 62 year old was arrested in Havana in December 2009 while working as a contractor for a US international development programme. Charged with distributing illegal communications systems, Mr Gross claimed that he was just trying to help the island's small Jewish community connect to the internet. The 1,500 strong community did not back up his story, and he was sentenced in March this year.

Last week former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson visited Cuba in a personal capacity to attempt to negotiate Mr Gross's release. Having said he would not leave the island without speaking to the prisoner, after a few days without success, he left.

While Washington says that Havana must release Mr Gross if they want "warmer relations with the United States", the Havana Times says this is like trying "to sow hopes using the strategy of the invisible carrot". The paper says that Mr Richardson apparently made "some offers that were so ridiculous that Western diplomats still can't believe they came from the White House".

According to the Miami press, Mr Richardson proposed a prisoner swap with Rene Gonzalez, a Cuban agent due to be released next month, despite Mr Gross due to serve a further 15 years.

The Havana Times suggested there was a need for "serious offers and the will to compromise", adding "Washington simply cannot punish the island any more than it already does with its embargo."

Last updated: 3:53pm, September 23 2011