Carter to meet Castro, religious leaders in Cuba

HAVANA (Reuters) – Former US President Jimmy Carter will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro, the leader of Cuba’s Catholic Church and the island’s Jewish community during a Havana visit starting  tmorrow amid speculation he will seek the release of a jailed American aid contractor.

His public schedule was issued yesterday by the Cuban government, which invited him for his second visit to the country, the first coming in 2002.

He is the only US president, in or out of power, to come to Cuba since a 1959 revolution that transformed the island into a communist state.

Since leaving office in 1981, Carter has on occasion served as an unofficial diplomatic troubleshooter, including last August when he went to North Korea to secure the release of an American imprisoned there.

The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, said on Friday that Carter, 86, would be in Cuba for three days on a “private, non-governmental mission” to “learn about new economic policies and the upcoming (Communist) Party congress and to discuss ways to improve US-Cuba relations.”

The latter have been stymied by the case of Alan Gross, who has been jailed in the Cuban capital since Dec. 3, 2009. Following a trial this month he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

A Cuban court found that he had committed “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state” for attempting to provide illegal Internet access to Cuban groups.

Gross, 61, was in Cuba working under a controversial US-funded programme promoting political change on the island, which Cuba views as part of longstanding US efforts to undermine the government.

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