Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    US says Cuba has set date to try detained American

    Posted on Thursday, 02.24.11

    US says Cuba has set date to try detained American
    Associated Press

    — An American contractor jailed since December 2009 on suspicion
    of spying will go on trial in Cuba on March 4, U.S. diplomats and
    state-run Cuban media said Thursday, in a case sure to have profound
    ramifications for relations between the two Cold War enemies.

    Cuban prosecutors are seeking a 20-year term for Alan , a
    61-year-old native of Potomac, Maryland, who was working for a firm
    contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was
    and sent to Havana's high-security Villa Marista prison.

    The U.S. government and Gross' family say he was distributing
    communications equipment to the island's Jewish community when he was
    arrested. Cuba says he was part of a multimillion-dollar plan to
    destabilize the government, and charged him with "acts against the
    integrity and independence" of the country.

    Cuban officials informed the U.S. State Department of the trial date on
    Wednesday, Molly Koscina, a spokeswoman for America's diplomatic mission
    in Havana, told The Associated Press. She added that Gross has also been
    notified that a trial date has been set.

    "The Office of Cuban Affairs in Washington DC was informed yesterday,"
    Koscina said. "The Cuban government has said that the family can
    and that U.S. officials can attend."

    Cuban state-media confirmed the trial date, and said the proceedings
    would be held at Havana's Popular Provisional Tribunal.

    "This information was transmitted through diplomatic channels to the
    United States government, which was also notified that consular
    representatives, family members of Mr. Gross and his family lawyers can
    participate in the trial," said a report on the state-run news Website

    Judy Gross, ' wife, said in an e-mail to the AP that she
    understands the trial is likely to last one or two days, but she said
    she has not yet decided if she will attend. The couple's 26-year-old
    daughter is currently recovering from surgery for breast cancer, and
    Alan Gross' mother was just diagnosed with lung cancer, making travel

    "Now, more than ever, I beg the Cuban government to let Alan come home
    on humanitarian grounds. He has already served a 15-month prison
    sentence," she wrote.

    She said she is worried about her husband's ability to "sustain the
    emotional pain and stress he is under," as well as his . He has
    lost more than 90 pounds since being imprisoned.

    News that a date would be set for Gross's trial came first in a Twitter
    posting sent from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, though he did
    not state the date.

    Crowley said in the Twitter posting that the U.S. hopes Gross will
    receive a fair trial and can be allowed to come home. He said what Gross
    did "is not a crime."

    Relations between Cuba and the United States have reverted to their icy
    norm after a brief period of optimism following the election of U.S.
    President Barack Obama that the countries could put away their decades
    of enmity.

    On Wednesday, Obama denounced Cuba's record and called on
    President 's government to release political prisoners and
    stop harassing the mother of a Cuban hunger striker who died last year.

    While Obama's administration has taken several steps to loosen some
    travel and financial restrictions on Cuba, U.S. officials have said
    repeatedly that relations cannot improve in any meaningful way while
    Gross remains in custody.

    The United States has maintained a 48-year trade on Cuba.

    As recently as January, a senior State Department official was allowed
    to meet with Gross in custody, and U.S. officials were voicing optimism
    he would soon be released.

    One scenario mentioned privately at the time was that the American might
    be convicted, sentenced to time served and . But that was before
    Cuban prosecutors announced earlier this month that they would seek such
    a lengthy jail term.

    The project Gross worked with was part of a $40 million-a-year USAID
    program to promote democracy and political change on the island.

    U.S. officials have defended the program and said they will never stop
    supporting democracy and openness in Cuba. Detractors of the Cuba
    project have criticized it as ineffective and counterproductive.

    While Gross claims to have been working with the 1,500-strong Jewish
    community, the leaders of the island's two main Jewish groups have said
    they had nothing to do with him.
    Associated Press reporter Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to
    this report.