WASHINGTON - The family of a US contractor jailed in Cuba urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to bring him home, saying they feared for his life as he began a sixth year in prison.
The plea from the wife of Alan Gross came on the fifth anniversary of his December 3, 2009 arrest in Havana, and as the US State Department warned his continued imprisonment was a major obstacle to improving frosty ties.
Gross, 65, was convicted in 2011 of "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state" for allegedly distributing communications equipment while working for the aid agency USAID.
"Enough is enough. My husband has paid a terrible price for serving his country and community," said Judy Gross, in a statement released to mark the poignant anniversary.
"Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end," she said.
Gross revealed that her husband had said farewell to his family in July and had refused to see them since.
"After five years of literally wasting away, Alan is done. It is time for President Obama to bring Alan back to the United States now; otherwise it will be too late," she wrote.
Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters that his release remained a "top priority" for the US.
"His continued incarceration represents a significant impediment to a more constructive bilateral relationship," she said, adding Washington renewed its "call for the Cuban government to release Alan Gross immediately." Washington has long called on Havana to release Gross, and voiced growing concern about his health, amid reports he has lost about 100 pounds (45 kilos).
Harf stressed the US had used every "diplomatic channel to press for his release publicly and privately, and we will continue to do so." Havana has suggested it could release Gross if Washington were to free the remaining "Cuban Five" intelligence agents, who were convicted in a 1998 US spy case - a prospect Washington has roundly rejected.
The United States and Cuba have not had full diplomatic relations since 1961. In 1962, Washington imposed an economic embargo on the island, the only Communist-run country in the Americas.