HAVANA — President Jimmy Carter met with a jailed American contractor before leaving Cuba yesterday but said Cuban leaders had made it clear they do not plan to release him.
The news disappointed supporters of Alan Gross. The trip had raised hopes the former president would be allowed to bring the Maryland native home. Gross, who was working on a democracy-building project for the US Agency for International Development, is serving a 15-year sentence after being convicted this month of bringing communications equipment into Cuba illegally.
State Department officials have said privately that Cuban authorities indicated they might release Gross on humanitarian grounds following the trial. But Carter, 86, said that Cuban officials “made it very clear to me before I left my home that the freedom of Alan Gross would not be granted.’’
He met with Gross at an undisclosed location yesterday morning, Carter said, adding that the 61-year-old contractor told him he had lost 88 pounds since his arrest in December 2009. “He still seems to be in good spirits, professing his innocence,’’ Carter added.
Carter said Gross’s lawyer plans to appeal his conviction, and if that fails, “perhaps in the future an executive order might be issued to grant him a pardon, a release, on humanitarian grounds.’’ Gross’s 26-year-old daughter and elderly mother are both suffering from cancer.
Carter also met with revolutionary icon Fidel Castro yesterday, a day after holding talks with President Raul Castro.
“We welcomed each other as old friends,’’ Carter said of the meeting with the 84-year-old former Cuban leader. He said Fidel Castro “seems to be in good health.’’