US urges Cuba to free American for mother's funeral

The United States called on Cuba on Wednesday to allow an imprisoned American contractor to travel home to attend his mother’s funeral as a humanitarian gesture.

Alan Gross, 65, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Cuba in 2011 after being convicted of “acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state” for allegedly distributing communications equipment as a contractor for the US aid agency USAID.

Washington has repeatedly called for his release, and on Wednesday State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki offered “our deepest and sincerest condolences” following the news that his 92-year-old mother, Evelyn, had died after a long battle with lung cancer.

“We obviously feel it is a tragedy that he was unable to be home in the United States at his mother’s bedside for her passing,” Psaki told reporters.

“We’ve urged the Cuban government to grant Mr. Gross a humanitarian furlough so that he can travel to the United States and be with his family during this time of mourning.”

Psaki would not say whether Washington would provide guarantees that Gross would return to Havana to serve the rest of his sentence.

Gross’s family said the news of his mother’s death “is a devastating blow for Alan and our family.”

“I am extremely worried that now Alan will give up all hope of ever coming home and do something drastic,” his wife Judy said in a statement.

“Surely, there must be something President (Barack) Obama can do to secure Alan’s immediate release.”

The family said Cuban officials had refused to give Gross a chance to visit his mother while she was still alive, despite repeated pleas after she was diagnosed with cancer.

Gross’s family and US officials have also raised concerns about his own health. He was arrested in 2009 and is said to have lost more than 100 pounds (45 kilos) in weight. He suffers from chronic pain and the family are concerned that he is losing his will to live.

The US and Cuba have not had full diplomatic relations since 1961. In 1962, Washington imposed an economic embargo on the island, the only Communist-run country in the Americas.

Havana has suggested they might swap Gross if Washington released the last three of the remaining so-called “Cuban Five” intelligence agents, jailed in a 1998 US spy case.

Two of the men have been released after serving their sentences, but Washington has so far ruled out freeing the remaining three.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.