US asks Pope to help in Alan Gross case
By MATTHEW LEE
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said Wednesday it had asked Pope
Benedict XVI to raise with Cuban officials the case of American
contractor Alan Gross, jailed on suspicion of espionage.
The State Department said the request was made directly to the Vatican
and through the papal nuncio in Washington before the Pope arrived in
Cuba this week.
"We obviously are hopeful that the pope will continue to be strong on
all of the human rights issues in Cuba, religious freedom, and it would
be a very, very good thing if the Cuban government were to take this
opportunity to release Alan Gross," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
"We would be obviously very grateful were the the pope to raise this
issue," she told reporters.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said late Tuesday that the
pontiff had made "requests of a humanitarian nature" to the Cuban
government but did not know if individual cases were discussed. He had
no comment when asked about Alan Gross on Wednesday.
Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence stemming from his work
importing satellite and other communications equipment onto the island
under a USAID-funded democracy-building program. Cuba considers such
programs to be attempts against its sovereignty, and he was convicted of
crimes against the state.
Gross maintains that he was only trying to help Cuban Jews improve their