The imprisonment in Cuba of U.S. contractor Alan Gross is an obstacle to better relations between Havana and Washington, senators said Tuesday, demanding the Maryland man's immediate and unconditional release.

The prisoner's wife, Judy Gross, was joined by Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski - both Democrats from Maryland - and Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, at a press conference.

"Mr. Castro, a message from the U.S. Senate: let Alan Gross go, let him go today, let him go now," Mikulski said, addressing Cuban President Raul Castro.

"Mr. Castro, you are illegally holding him on a trumped up charge against his own will to the devastation of his health," she said.

"I'm one who since July of 2000 have been engaged in trying to create greater opportunities for American agriculture, farmers and ranchers to deal with Cuba and have the opportunity to sell our products," Moran said.

"I'm no longer willing to pursue this further engagement until Alan Gross is released," the Republican added.

Cardin stressed that Gross' detention is preventing any progress in bilateral relations.

"We are all looking forward to a better relation bet Cuba and the us ... and we all hope that Cuba will do the right thing," he said.

Now 63, Gross was detained in Havana three years ago in possession of satellite communications equipment he said he was planning to distribute among Cuba's Jewish community.

Havana says he was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion on the Communist-ruled island. Last August, Cuba's highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on Gross five months earlier.

"We have to start on a clean slate, meaning let's forget about the five (Cuban intelligence officers held in the United States), let's forget about what's happened in the past, let's just sit down and talk," Judy Gross said Tuesday in comments to Efe.

Cuba says the five intelligence officers were sent to Florida in the wake of several terror bombings in Havana allegedly masterminded by anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative.

The five were arrested in 1998 and convicted three years later by a federal jury in Miami.

One of the spies is free on probation, but must remain on U.S. soil. The others are still behind bars. EFE

EFE