Cuba will free prisoners, but not U.S. inmate Gross

Cuban President Raúl Castro says his government will pardon nearly 3,000 prisoners in the coming days for humanitarian reasons.

Castro made the announcement Friday in a speech to lawmakers. He said 86 foreigners from 25 countries would be among the 2,900 inmates slated for release.

Earlier, Cuban media said the prisoners being freed would include some convicted of crimes against the security of the state, along with inmates who are more than 60 years old or are ill, women and young people who do not have long criminal records. The reports said those convicted of serious crimes like drug trafficking, murder or espionage will not be released.

The announcement comes two weeks after Pope Benedict said he planned to visit Cuba next year before the Easter holiday.

The Cuban government’s announcement made no mention of American contractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year term in Cuba after he was convicted earlier this year of crimes against the Communist state. Gross was arrested two years ago this month for bringing communications equipment into the country. The case has further strained relations between the United States and Cuba, which do not have formal diplomatic relations, only interests sections that are technically part of the Swiss embassies in each other’s capitals.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said on Saturday that the United States deplores the fact that Cuba did not include Gross in the humanitarian release, “especially in light of his deteriorating health.”

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