Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    American aid worker’s trial begins in Cuba

    American aid worker's trial begins in Cuba
    From Shasta Darlington, CNN
    March 4, 2011 — Updated 1955 GMT (0355 HKT)

    * Cuba says imported satellite equipment
    * He is charged with acts against Cuba's independence
    * The U.S. says was helping the Jewish community improve
    * He could face up to 20 years in if found guilty

    , Cuba (CNN) — American government contractor Alan Gross went on
    trial in Cuba Friday in a case that appears to have derailed a tentative
    rapprochement between the long-estranged countries.

    Cuba claims Gross — a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for
    International Development — imported illegal satellite equipment to
    connect dissidents to the . He would face up to 20 years in
    prison if found guilty.

    The says he was helping the Jewish community improve

    Gross on Friday was driven into the private drive of the courthouse,
    located in a converted mansion in a residential neighborhood of Havana.
    His wife, Judy, arrived on foot. Three U.S. officials also took seats in
    the courtroom as observers.

    Gross was held for more than a year before Cuban authorities formally
    charged him with acts against the country's independence last month.

    Judy Gross has appealed to Cuba to release him on humanitarian grounds.

    "Alan's 88-year-old mother has just been diagnosed with lung cancer,"
    she said in a written statement. "As I deal with that reality and our
    26-year-old daughter's recovery from a double mastectomy, I can only
    continue to hope for Alan's return and beg the Cuban government to free

    He "is an incredibly loving father," she noted in a video recording
    released shortly after her husband's arrest. "We've been married 40
    years. His daughters miss him terribly."

    In a December 2009 speech, Cuban President said Gross was
    illegally distributing "satellite communications equipment" to dissidents.

    "The U.S. government has not renounced its goal of destroying the
    revolution," he said. "The enemy is as active as always. Proof of that
    is the detention, in the last few days, of an American citizen."

    In a video that recently surfaced on the Web and that appears to be a
    leaked Cuban intelligence briefing, a speaker accuses Gross of using
    satellite phones to set up wi-fi hotspots.

    The arrest put relations between the United States and Cuba back in a
    deep freeze despite initial signs of a thaw under President Barack Obama.

    U.S. officials sharply criticized the charges against Gross after they
    were announced last month.

    "We deplore the Cuban government's announcement that Cuban prosecutors
    intend to seek a 20-year sentence for Mr. Gross," said Gloria Berbena,
    public affairs officer for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana.

    The White House also chimed in, claiming that Gross "has been unjustly
    detained and deprived of his liberty."

    "Instead of releasing Mr. Gross, so he can come home to his wife and
    family, today's decision by Cuban authorities compounds the injustice
    suffered by a man helping to increase the free flow of information to,
    from and among people," then-White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in
    a statement.

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Friday that Gross had
    been "unjustly jailed for far too long." He needs to be able to leave
    Cuba and return home, she said. This is a matter "of great personal
    pain" to his family and concern to the U.S. government.

    Foreign diplomats have speculated that Cuba will find Gross guilty, but
    could release him fairly quickly on humanitarian grounds.