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U.S. urges Cuba to free prisoner

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 6:12 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The United States called on Havana to release American Alan Gross on Monday, as the State Department contractor marked his third year in a Cuban prison for distributing laptops and satellite phones.

Gross, 63, was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009, and later sentenced to 15 years “for simply facilitating communications between Cuba's Jewish community and the rest of the world,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

Cuba “should release Alan Gross and return him to his family, where he belongs,” said Toner, decrying Gross' “unjustified imprisonment.”

Washington wants Cuba to at least allow Gross to travel to the United States to visit his 90-year-old mother, Evelyn Gross, “who is gravely ill. This is a humanitarian issue,” Toner said.

Toner said that Gross has lost more than 100 pounds since his arrest and suffers “from severe degenerative arthritis that affects his mobility, and other health problems.”

Cuba said last week that Gross is in “normal” health, and medical tests show he does not have cancer, as his family feared. The weight loss was because of voluntary exercise and a balanced diet that “has allowed him to get rid of his formerly obese condition,” the Cuban report said.

Washington and Gross' wife, Judith, however, want a doctor of their choosing to examine the prisoner.

President Obama “has followed Mr. Gross' case with concern, and he urges Mr. Gross' release,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Judith Gross has been critical of Washington's efforts to win her husband's release, calling it “totally negligent.”

At the same time, she said, “I'm very angry at the Cubans for arresting him and sending him to jail. It's all about teaching the United States a lesson.”

Washington and Havana, former Cold War foes, have been at odds for more than half a century and lack full diplomatic relations.

Cuba has made it clear that it is ready to negotiate Gross' release in exchange for the release of five captured Cuban spies held in the United States.

The Cubans were arrested in 1998 and found guilty in 2001 of trying to infiltrate military installations in South Florida. They received prison terms ranging from 15 years to life.

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