In a diplomatic debacle, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson was expected to leave Cuba on Wednesday without meeting jailed Jewish- American Alan Gross.

The governor, who traveled to Havana to try and secure Gross’s release from prison, where he has been kept for almost two years, said he would probably not be allowed access to the prisoner before his departure.

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“I have been here a week and tried through all means – with religious institutions, diplomats from other countries, all kinds of efforts - and I see that this isn’t going to change,” Richardson told reporters. “So why would I stay?” Hopes had been raised that Cuba might free Gross after Richardson arrived in the Cuban capital last week at the behest of local authorities.

However, his request to meet with Gross – who is being held at a military hospital – were repeatedly rebuffed by the government of Raul Castro.

Earlier in the year Gross was found guilty and sentenced to 18 years in prison for undermining the state by bringing in satellite phones to Cuba without permission. In his defense, Gross, who was sent to Cuba by USAID, a relief group, said the phones were intended to be used to set up a communications center for the local Jewish community.

His family issued a statement on Tuesday in response to news that Richardson would return to the US empty-handed saying they were very disappointed with the outcome.

“The Gross family is heartbroken to learn that governor Richardson’s efforts to reunite the family have been rebuffed by the Cuban government,” said lawyer Peter Kahn on behalf of the family.

“They are greatly troubled by the fact that the governor was invited to Havana to discuss Alan’s case, only to be turned away and not even allowed to visit Alan. The family fears that the governor’s inability to see Alan may be related to Alan’s deteriorating health, as in the past others have been permitted to see Alan when visiting Cuba.”

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