U.S. congressmen visit Gross in Cuban prison hospital

(JTA) — Four U.S. congressmen visited jailed American contractor Alan Gross at a prison hospital in Cuba.

U.S. Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D.-Calif) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) met Monday with Gross, 65, who is serving a 15-year sentence for “crimes against the state.”

On a mission to connect Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet while working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Gross was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba. He was convicted in 2011.

The representatives called on both countries to begin negotiations about Gross without preconditions.

The Cuban government has in the past indicated that it wants the United States to allow the return to Cuba of five spies in prison or on probation in the U.S. in return for negotiations on Gross.

Gross went on a week-long hunger strike last month to protest what he said was inaction by both the Cuban and U.S. governments. He suspended the strike at the request of his elderly mother.

The U.S. State Department released a statement on May 2, Gross’ birthday: “Today is Alan Gross’s 65th birthday. Instead of celebrating it with his family where he belongs, Mr. Gross remains in a Cuban prison — where he has been held for more than four years. We remain deeply concerned about Mr. Gross’s well-being and again call on the Government of Cuba to release him and allow him to be reunited with his family. His detention remains an impediment to more constructive relations between Cuba and the United States.”

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