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After mother's death, jailed American Alan Gross visited by wife in Cuba

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
updated 10:34 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
Judy Gross, the wife of jailed US contractor Alan Gross, after arriving in Cuba Tuesday to visit her husband and plead with Cuban government officials to release him from prison. Gross is serving a 15 year sentence for importing banned satellite communications equipment to the island.
Judy Gross, the wife of jailed US contractor Alan Gross, after arriving in Cuba Tuesday to visit her husband and plead with Cuban government officials to release him from prison. Gross is serving a 15 year sentence for importing banned satellite communications equipment to the island.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alan Gross' wife, Judy, visits husband in Cuba a week after his mother's death
  • The U.S. State Department contractor offered to return to jail after a goodbye visit
  • The Cuban government denied his request, saying inmates can't travel abroad
  • Gross is serving a 15-year sentence for bring satellite equipment to island

(CNN) -- The wife of imprisoned U.S. State Department contractor Alan Gross traveled to Cuba Tuesday as part of her ongoing effort to free her husband.

Judy Gross did not talk to a CNN reporter outside Havana's Jose Marti International Airport, and she and Gross' attorney quickly boarded a bus provided by the Cuban government.

Last week, Gross' mother died after a long fight with cancer, Gross' attorney, Scott Gilbert, said.

The Cuban government refused Gross' request to travel to the United States to say goodbye to Evelyn Gross before she died. Gross had promised that after seeing his mother he would return to his prison cell at a military hospital in Havana.

"We would like to convey our heartfelt condolences to his relatives," Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Josefina Vidal said in a statement. "It is necessary to clarify that neither the Cuban penitentiary system nor the U.S. penitentiary system provide the possibility for inmates to travel abroad, no matter the reason. "

Gross, 65, is serving a 15-year sentence for bringing satellite communications equipment to Cuba as part of his work as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. He was convicted in March 2011.

Kenneth Bae is one of two American detainees released from North Korea this week. Bae had been held since late 2012, and in April 2013 was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified "hostile acts" against the North Korean government. North Korea claimed Bae was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime. In a short interview with CNN on September 1, Bae said he was working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp. "Right now what I can say to my friends and family is, continue to pray for me," he said. Kenneth Bae is one of two American detainees released from North Korea this week. Bae had been held since late 2012, and in April 2013 was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for unspecified "hostile acts" against the North Korean government. North Korea claimed Bae was part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime. In a short interview with CNN on September 1, Bae said he was working eight hours a day, six days a week at a labor camp. "Right now what I can say to my friends and family is, continue to pray for me," he said.
Americans detained abroad
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U.S. officials said Gross was merely trying to help Cubans bypass the island's stringent restrictions on Internet access and have said his imprisonment is one of the major obstacles to improved relations with Cuba.

In April, Gross embarked on a hunger strike to protest his continued imprisonment. He later said he was suspending his hunger strike after his mother pleaded with him to begin eating again.

Since his arrest, Gross has suffered a slew of health problems, his attorney said, and lost more than 100 pounds.

"Alan is confined to one room, 23 hours a day." Gilbert said during an interview with CNN in April. "He spends his day there in pajamas, he's fed meals in his room. He's let out for an hour a day, to exercise an hour a day in a small, walled courtyard where you can barely see the sky."

Cuban officials have said they want to negotiate Gross' case with representatives of the United States in conjunction with the fates of three Cuban intelligence operatives serving lengthy sentences in U.S. prisons.

But U.S. officials have called that effort blackmail and said the cases are separate matters because Gross was not working as a spy in Cuba.

The diplomatic impasse is taking its toll on Gross, Gilbert said.

"The White House has yet to engage on this issue; we need the president to make this a priority. Without that, Alan will die in Cuba," Gilbert said.

READ: After Bergdahl, could swap involving Alan Gross be next?

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