Jesse Jackson makes plea to Cuba to free Gross


(JTA) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson has called on Cuba to release Jewish U.S. citizen Alan Gross from prison and reunite him with his family.

Jackson, who has been to Cuba several times and met with former President Fidel Castro and current President Raul Castro, offered to go to Cuba to negotiate the release of American contractor Alan Gross, according to a statement issued Tuesday from his Rainbow PUSH coalition.

"My appeal is solely a humanitarian one with deep respect of the national sovereignty of your beloved country," the statement read. "I know that you have the moral courage and authority to free Mr. Gross and I hope and pray that you will accept my appeal. I am ready to travel to Cuba at any moment to meet with you and also visit Mr. Gross. I hope you will allow Mr. Gross to be reunited with his family."

Jackson told The Associated Press that he was making the appeal as a private U.S. citizen and not on behalf of the Obama administration.

Gross, whom the U.S. State Department says was in Cuba to assist Cuban Jews, is scheduled to go on trial Friday after being charged in Cuba on Feb. 4 with "acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state." The charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.

U.S. officials will attend the trial, which likely will be in front of a panel of judges, Reuters reported. The trial is expected to last a couple of days.

Cuban authorities detained Gross in late 2009 on his way out of the country, saying he was a spy. Gross’ family and State Department officials say he 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.

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