HAVANA (Reuters) – Former US President Jimmy Carter met with Cuban Jews on Monday at the start of a private three-day visit to the island, but he did not discuss with them a US aid contractor jailed for allegedly providing illegal Internet access to Jewish groups.
Local Jewish leader Adela Dworin told reporters Carter did not talk about contractor Alan Gross or any political topics during a stop at Cuba’s main Jewish headquarters, located in Havana’s Vedado district.
“That was not talked about,” she said when reporters asked about Gross. “In reality, we did not talk about anything political.”
She said Carter asked about religious freedom and was told “that we openly practice our religion.”
Carter, 86, was kept well away from the press, but he shouted that he would speak at a press conference tomorrow. He later met Cuban Catholic leader Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
Gross, 61, was given a 15-year prison sentence this month after a Cuban court convicted him of providing illegal Internet access to Cuban groups, including the communist island’s small Jewish community.
His case has worsened relations between Cold War enemies Cuba and the United States, at odds since a 1959 revolution toppled a US-backed dictator and put Fidel Castro in power.
Relations had warmed slightly under US President Barack Obama before Gross’s arrest in December 2009, but the United States said there will be no more progress until Gross is free.
Carter, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, may try to lay the groundwork for Gross’ release during his visit, but Cuban officials reportedly have told him not to expect to take the American home when he leaves on Wednesday.
The former president and his wife Rosalynn were invited by Cuba’s government, which gave them a low-key welcome yesterday at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport.