WASHINGTON | Sat Dec 24, 2011 3:03pm EST
(Reuters) - The State Department said on Saturday it deplored Cuba's
failure to free Alan Gross - a U.S. citizen serving a 15-year prison
term in a case that has stalled progress in U.S.-Cuba relations - as
part of an announced humanitarian release of some 2,900 prisoners.
"If this is correct, we are deeply disappointed and deplore the fact
that the Cuban government has decided not to take this opportunity to
extend this humanitarian release to Mr. Gross this holiday season,
especially in light of his deteriorating health, and to put an end to
the Gross family's long plight," Mark Toner, a State Department
spokesman, said Saturday.
The Cuban government said on Friday it would free 2,900 prisoners in
coming days for humanitarian reasons ahead of a visit next spring by
Pope Benedict XVI.
Those to be pardoned do not include Gross, a government spokesman said
in Havana. He was imprisoned after setting up Internet equipment as a
subcontractor in a U.S.-funded program promoting political change in Cuba.
The Cuban government considered his work subversive. His arrest halted a
brief warming in U.S.-Cuba relations that have been hostile since Fidel
Castro embraced Soviet Communism after his 1959 revolution.
In a statement, Toner reiterated a U.S. call on Cuban authorities to
release Gross "and return him to his family, where he belongs." The
State Department has said in the past that Gross was merely providing
Internet access for Jewish groups in Cuba and should be released
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing
by Sandra Maler)