A US congressional delegation arrived in Cuba this week to press for the release of imprisoned American-Jewish contractor Alan Gross.
Seven lawmakers led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) traveled to the country on Monday for a three-day visit.
The delegation plans to meet with Gross, as well as parliament president Ricardo Alarcon, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and possibly President Raul Castro.
Leahy met with Gross one year ago during a visit to the island nation. During a meeting that same day with Castro, the president brought up the case of five Cuban agents serving long jail terms in the United States. Cuba has linked Gross' release to the fate of the so-called Cuban Five, according to reports.
The delegation would like to bring Gross back to the United States with them, Leahy has said.
Gross was arrested in December 2009 as he was leaving Cuba for “crimes against the state” for distributing laptop computers and connecting Cuban Jews to the Internet. He spoke virtually no Spanish and traveled to Cuba five times under his own name before his arrest.
Gross' family and US State Department officials say that Gross was in the country on a US Agency for International Development contract to help the country's 1,500 Jews communicate with other Jewish communities using the Internet. The main Jewish groups in Cuba have denied any contact with or knowledge of Gross or the program.
Kerry had discussed Gross case
US Secretary of State John Kerry, when he was a senator from Massachusetts, reportedly met with Rodriguez, the Cuban foreign minister, in New York in 2010 to discuss the Gross case, according to Foreign Affairs magazine. Former President James Carter also met with Raul Castro in Havana in 2011.
Delegation members said they were also interested in reforms in Cuba.
President Castro has lifted most travel restrictions and freed Cubans to buy and sell homes and cars over the past year, even as he accelerates efforts to reform the Soviet-style economy in a more market-friendly direction.
The Obama administration has said relations will not improve while Gross remains in custody. In addition, under the 1996 'Helms-Burton' law, sanctions cannot be lifted until Cuba's one-party communist political system is changed, a demand rejected by the Cuban government.
Gross, 63, was arrested in Havana in December 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for installing Internet networks under a secretive US program the Cuban government considers subversive.
The case put the brakes on a brief warming in long-hostile US-Cuba relations during the first 11 months of US President Barack Obama's first term in office.
Cuba has linked Gross' fate to that of five agents imprisoned in the late 1990s for infiltrating Miami exile organizations and US military bases.
The agents, known as the Cuban Five, were sentenced to long terms ranging from 15 years to life and are considered heroes in Cuba.