THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Jimmy Carter to visit Jewish community in Cuba

By Andrea Rodriguez
Associated Press / March 26, 2011

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HAVANA—Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is scheduled to meet with Jewish leaders shortly after arriving in Cuba Monday, hinting that his visit will deal partly with the case of a U.S. contractor whose conviction has further dented relations between Havana and Washington.

An agenda released Saturday by Cuba's Foreign Relations Ministry says Carter is to visit a Jewish institution. The imprisoned contractor, Alan Gross, had said he was trying to improve internet access for the small Jewish community when he was arrested in December 2009.

The agenda indicates Carter also is scheduled to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro as well as Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega before leaving on Wednesday.

The trip is under the auspices of the Carter Center, whose officials have given only a general description of the motives for the visit, saying the aim is to discuss economic policies and improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

U.S. officials have made clear that the recent 15-year sentence imposed on Gross is a stumbling block to any rapprochement.

Gross, 61, was working for Bethesda, Maryland-based Development Alternatives, Inc. on a USAID-backed democracy-building project that Cuba's government says is aimed at toppling its socialist system and described him as a mercenary.

Gross's wife Judy E. Gross issued a statement on Saturday welcoming Carter's mission.

"If he is able to help Alan in any way while he is there, we will be extraordinarily grateful," she said in the emailed statement. "Our family is desperate for Alan to return home, after nearly 16 months in prison. We continue to hope and pray that the Cuban authorities will release him immediately on humanitarian grounds."

Carter's 1971-1981 presidency coincided with the least-chilly period of U.S.-Cuban relations since shortly after Fidel Castro led his rebels to power in 1959.

There have been no diplomatic relations between the countries since the 1960s and the United States maintains economic and financial sanctions on the island.

Carter visited Cuba in May 2002 on a six-day tour during which he met with then-President Fidel Castro and criticized both Washington's embargo and the lack of political plurality on the island.

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