(JTA) – Jailed American Jewish contractor Alan Gross "was no spy," Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in a meeting with two visiting U.S. senators, Patrick Leahy and Richard Shelby.
Leahy (D-Vt.) told The Associated Press that Castro made the remark during a 2 1/2-hour meeting in Havana on Feb. 23. Leahy and Shelby (R-Ala.) offered to take Gross back to the United States on their plane, AP reported. Leahy told the AP that “we have a long way to go” to win Gross’ release.
Castro brought up the case of five Cuban agents serving long jail terms in the United States, including one released last year who has not been allowed to return to Cuba during his three-year probation, Leahy told the AP.
Earlier in the day, Leahy had met with Gross, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence in a military prison in Havana.
Gross was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba for “crimes against the state” for distributing laptop computers and connecting Cuban Jews to the Internet. He spoke virtually no Spanish and traveled to Cuba five times under his own name before his arrest.
Gross’ family and U.S. State Department officials say that Gross was in the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the country’s 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet. The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program
The senators are part of an American congressional delegation touring Cuba, Haiti and Colombia.