Latin America & Caribbean

Rabbis urge Cuba to free US prisoner Alan Gross

Alan Gross, US prisoner in Cuba Image copyright AP
Image caption Alan Gross photographed in a military hospital in Cuba where he has been held since 2009

A group of American rabbis have called on President Barack Obama to negotiate the release of a US Jewish contractor detained in Cuba since 2009.

Some 300 rabbis sent a letter saying they were concerned about the health of 65-year-old Alan Gross.

Mr Gross has served four years of a 15-year term for taking internet equipment to Cuba illegally.

His imprisonment has stymied efforts to improve diplomatic ties between Cuba and the US.

Cuba has offered several times to exchange Mr Gross for three Cuban intelligence agents accused of spying who are in prison in the US.

Washington has always refused, saying the cases are different.

He was working installing internet for Cuba's Jewish community.

The rabbis urged Mr Obama to "take all steps necessary" to secure his release.

Mr Gross's lawyer, Scott Gilbert, said his client has lost vision in one eye and his "emotional deterioration has been severe".

Mr Gross was working for USAID, the government's international development agency.

Cuba has said USAID's programmes on the island are illegal attempts by the US to undermine its government.

For its part, the US denies this and says Mr Gross was simply trying to ensure Cuba's Jewish community could communicate with the outside world "without censorship".

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