HAVANA — Former President Jimmy Carter met with a jailed American contractor Wednesday but said Cuban leaders had made it clear they do not plan to release him.
The announcement was a disappointment to supporters of Alan Gross after the trip had raised expectations the 86-year-old former American president would be allowed to bring the Maryland native home. Gross is serving a 15-year sentence after being convicted earlier this month of bringing communications equipment into Cuba illegally.
State Department officials have said privately that Cuban authorities indicated they might release Gross on humanitarian grounds following the trial. But Carter said that from the very beginning, he knew Gross would not be freed during the visit.
"The Cuban officials made it very clear to me before I left my home that the freedom of Alan Gross would not be granted."
He said he met with Gross at an undisclosed location Wednesday morning, and that the 61-year-old contractor told him he had lost 40 kilograms (88 pounds) since his arrest in December 2009.
"He still seems to be in good spirits, professing his innocence," Carter added.
Carter said Gross's lawyer plans to appeal his conviction, and if that fails, "perhaps in the future an executive order might be issued to grant him a pardon, a release, on humanitarian grounds." Gross's 26-year-old daughter and elderly mother are both suffering from cancer.
The former U.S. president said he believes Gross is "innocent of any serious crime" and did not pose "any serious threat" to the Cuban government.
In addition to meeting Gross, Carter also sat down Wednesday with revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, a day after holding talks with President Raul Castro.
"We welcomed each other as old friends," Carter said of the meeting with the 84-year-old former Cuban leader. He said Fidel Castro "seems to be in good health."