A high ranking member of the U.S. Senate is in Cuba trying to gain the release of an American accused of spying. He is Dick Durbin of Illinois, who arrived on the island Wednesday for high level talks with Cuban officials.
He is urging Cuba to release Alan Gross, a USAID contractor, who is serving a 15-year sentence. Gross has been jailed since 2009 after he was found guilty of spying.
The U.S. says Gross is not a spy and that he was arranging Internet service for a small Jewish community on the island. Before leaving Cuba, Durbin will also hold talks on Cuba’s plans for an off shore drilling project in the Gulf of Mexico.
The U.S. concern has been elevated by last year’s British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the southwestern United States coast.
An explosion on a oil rig caused the subsequent spill, creating one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
Following his meetings in Cuba, Durbin will travel to Haiti for discussions with government leaders on the recovery efforts following last year’s devastating earthquake that left at least 300,000 dead.
Haitian officials say an estimated 550,000 people are still without homes, down from 1.5 million after the earthquake struck.