WASHINGTON (JTA) — Bill Richardson, who has secured the release of imprisoned Americans, is traveling to Cuba in an attempt to free Jewish contractor Alan Gross.
Gross’ American lawyer, Peter Kahn, said it was the family’s hope that Gross would be released in time to celebrate Rosh HaShanah with his family.
A former U.S. congressman, energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations, Richardson over the years has secured freedom for Americans imprisoned in Iraq and North Korea. He served two terms as New Mexico governor from 2003 to 2011.
CNN on Wednesday quoted State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland as saying that Richardson’s bid was a private one, albeit supported by the Obama administration.
"We are pleased that the Cuban government invited Governor Richardson to Havana," Kahn said in a statement. "We welcome any and all dialogue that ultimately will result in Alan’s release. We are grateful to Governor Richardson for his continued efforts. We hope that the Governor and Cuban authorities are able to find common ground that will allow us to be reunited as a family before the Jewish High Holy Days."
Gross, 62, is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for “crimes against the state” for distributing laptop computers and connecting Cuban Jews to the Internet. Gross was arrested in 2009 as he was leaving Cuba and accused of being a spy.
His appeal was rejected recently by the island nation’s Supreme Court, and now the only legal avenue left available is for the commutation of his sentence by President Raul Castro.
Since his incarceration, Gross reportedly has lost approximately 100 pounds and is suffering from partial paralysis, as well as other ailments. His daughter has breast cancer and his mother was diagnosed with cancer as well.