HAVANA (AP) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson ended a four-day visit to Cuba on Monday without getting to visit a U.S. government development subcontractor who is serving a 15-year sentence in the Caribbean nation.
The civil rights activist said he had requested access to Alan Gross of Maryland, but island authorities told him it couldn’t be arranged in time.
“I certainly inquired about him. No American can come here in good conscience and not ask about him,” Jackson said. “I would hope we would maintain our vigil in trying to gain his release.”
Gross was arrested in 2009 while importing restricted communications equipment as part of a U.S. government-funded democracy building program. He was accused of spying and convicted of crimes under a statute governing crimes against the state.
Gross says he was only setting up Internet networks for island Jewish groups and posed no threat to Cuban sovereignty.
Jackson told reporters Monday that Gross had been visited recently by U.S. diplomats.
Cuba, for its part, demands the return of four of its agents who are still serving long prison terms in the United States. One of the “Cuban Five” was paroled in 2011 and returned to the island earlier this year.
Jackson arrived in Havana on Friday for unrelated talks with emissaries of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, about Kevin Scott Sutay, a former U.S. soldier taken prisoner by the guerrillas as he was hiking through Colombian jungle in June.
The FARC asked Jackson for help in arranging a handover, and he agreed.
However, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos subsequently said only the Red Cross would be allowed to secure Sutay’s release and warned that there would be no “media spectacle.”
Jackson said he still intends to travel to Colombia in the coming days in hopes of working out an agreement.
“The American is free, but he cannot be retrieved, so he indeed is not free,” Jackson said. “He’s no longer being held by FARC. He’s being held by a lack of access.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)