Alan Gross and the “Cyberwar”
Alan Gross and the "Cyberwar"
By Dalia Acosta
HAVANA, Mar 14, 2011 (IPS) – The 15-year jail sentence handed down over
the weekend to U.S. citizen Alan Gross, who was found guilty in Cuba of
"acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state,"
is part of a new chapter in the conflict between Havana and Washington,
which is now playing out in cyberspace.
Cuban authorities say Gross was providing sophisticated communication
technology to internal opposition groups, including independent
journalists and other activists whose anti-government activities have
mainly been carried out over the Internet, vía blogs and social
According to a U.S. State Department communiqué, Gross "is a dedicated
international development worker who has devoted his life to helping
people in more than 50 countries. He was in Cuba to help the Cuban
people connect with the rest of the world."
When he was arrested in Cuba on Dec. 3, 2009, Gross was working for a
Maryland-based firm, Development Alternatives, as a subcontractor on a
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programme to promote
democracy in Cuba.
The U.S. government says his work mainly involved distributing laptops
and satellite phone equipment to the Jewish community in Cuba, to give
them remote access to the Internet.
In a statement broadcast after the sentence was issued Saturday, the
Cuban government said that during the trial Gross "recognised having
been used and manipulated" by USAID and the U.S. State Department.
Gross, 61, has the right to appeal the sentence to Cuba's Supreme Court.
The prosecutor had sought the maximum sentence, 20 years.
According to the official statement, the evidence presented in the trial
demonstrated Gross's participation "in a subversive project of the U.S.
government" aimed at destabilising the Cuban government "through the use
of communications systems outside of the control of authorities."
The Gross family was "devastated by the verdict and harsh sentence
announced today," said Gross's attorney Peter Kahn. "Alan and his family
have paid an enormous personal price in the long-standing political feud
between Cuba and the United States," he added.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said "Today's
sentencing adds another injustice to Alan Gross's ordeal," and called
for his immediate release.
The news of his sentence coincided in Cuba with the announcement of a
new episode of the documentary series "Las razones de Cuba" (Cuba's
Reasons) aired by state-run television. The episode, "Mentiras bien
pagadas" (Well-Paid Lies), will focus Monday night on "the financing for
the U.S. cyberwar against the island," according to official sources.
The Cubadebate web site says Monday's episode will focus on how
Washington allegedly finances activists and independent reporters who
mainly express their views over the Internet, and who purportedly
receive instructions to focus on issues "from a counter-revolutionary
"The documentary will offer, besides information declassified by the
Cuban government, details on the budget funds received by USAID for
subversive purposes towards Cuba," added Cubadebate, which describes
itself as a web site "against terrorism in the media."
After Gross's trial was finished but the sentence was still pending,
another episode of "Las razones de Cuba" was broadcast, dedicated to
showing how the U.S. government has introduced communication
technologies into this Caribbean island nation to promote "subversive
In the programme, a young telecommunications expert told how he was
recruited in 2007 by a U.S. organisation that gave him four satellite
antennas disguised as surf boards, to set up illegal communication
networks in Cuba.
The focus of the U.S. government's Cuba policy shifted more sharply
towards cyberspace last year after the whistleblower web site Wikileaks
published a confidential diplomatic cable sent by the head of the U.S.
Interests Section (USINT) in Havana which, besides describing the
traditional dissident groups in Cuba as largely ineffectual, stressed
the social impact that others, like bloggers, can have.
"We also must continue to open up Cuba to the information age…to
facilitate and encourage the younger generations of Cubans seeking
greater freedom and opportunity," USINT head Jonathan Farrar said in the
cable dated Apr. 15, 2009.
Gross's sentence also seems to slam the door shut on further moves to
ease U.S. restrictions against Cuba, a possibility that was widely
discussed after President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, but
which since last year has been discarded by senior officials in the
government of Raúl Castro.