With a nod to Pope Benedict's upcoming visit to the country, President Raul Castro yesterday announced that Cuba would pardon 2,900 prisoners, a group that includes some convicted of political crimes, many inmates over the age of 60, and a number of women. He referred to the act as "a demonstration of the generosity and strength of the revolution," and noted that 86 foreign prisoners hailing from 25 countries would also be freed. That group does not include Alan Gross, however. The AP reports that the American government subcontractor's supporters had been pleading with Cuban authorities to release the 62-year-old Maryland native.
Gross was arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years after being convicted of trying to set up illegal Internet connections in Cuba. Gross was part of a USAID program: His family says he was simply trying to get the nation's small Jewish community plugged into the web, spoke little Spanish, and was not a spy; Cuban officials counter that the program's intention is to overthrow the government. His supporters say Gross, who was obese when he was arrested, has lost more than 100 pounds in jail and is now gaunt and increasingly depressed. Meanwhile, his daughter and elderly mother have both been diagnosed with cancer. Bill Richardson and Jimmy Carter have lobbied on his behalf.