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Pope in Cuba: Will he raise case of jailed American?

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Patrick Farrell/The Miami Herald/AP

(Read caption) Crowds gather on Monday for Papal Mass by Pope Benedict XVI in the Plaza de la Revolución Antonio Maceo in Santiago, Cuba. Many are watching to see if the Pope will mention Alan Gross, an imprisoned US aid worker, accused of spying.

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Washington will be watching Cuba carefully this week, as Pope Benedict XVI walks a diplomatic tightrope between his church, the government-proclaimed atheist Cuban state, and dissidents on the island. The Catholic Church has already described the US embargo as useless and Washington will be keen for attention to be deflected away from US policy on Cuba.
 
Diplomats will also be watching for any mention of Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development arrested here in December 2009, accused of spying. His wife, Judy Gross, has called for the pope to help at least allow her husband to travel to the United States to visit his elderly mother, who is suffering from inoperable lung cancer.
 
Ultimately, she would like his release from prison, and return to the United States. "I have one hope left, and that’s, of course, the pope,” she told The Washington Post. “If that doesn’t work, I think he’ll probably die in Cuban prison.”

The Cuban government accused Mr. Gross of attempting to "destroy the revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of authorities," according to a Cuban court statement. He entered Cuba on a tourist visa and was caught with a satellite phone.  Gross said he was trying to help the country's Jewish community find better access to the internet.

Havana is keen to use Gross as a bargaining chip in return for the Cuban Five, whose faces adorn billboards here in Havana. They were arrested by US authorities in 1998 and convicted in 2001 for spying on anti-Castro exiles in Miami.

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