Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    American faces trial as U.S-Cuba conflict goes on

    American faces trial as U.S-Cuba conflict goes on
    Reuters
    By Jeff Franks Jeff Franks

    HAVANA (Reuters) – An American aid contractor caught up in one of the
    world's last Cold War conflicts goes on trial on Friday for crimes
    against the Cuban state in a case that could put him in for 20
    years and further damage U.S.-Cuba relations.

    Alan , 61, who already has spent 15 months in jail, is accused of
    illegally importing satellite communications equipment under a U.S.
    program outlawed on the communist-led island.

    A three-person panel will hear his case, which like most Cuban trials is
    expected to last only a day or two.

    The case could set back U.S.-Cuba relations for years if Cuba decides to
    make an example of Gross and lock him away for years. But some observers
    believe a political solution has been or will be reached that will allow
    Gross to go free soon.

    His wife, Judy Gross, has pleaded with Cuba to release him for
    humanitarian reasons because their 26-year-old daughter and '
    88-year-old mother are battling cancer. She also has said her husband's
    is deteriorating in prison.

    The has said Gross, a longtime development worker who was
    in Cuba on a tourist visa, was setting up improved access for
    Jewish groups, and insists that he committed no crimes.

    He was a contractor for a U.S. Agency for International Development
    (USAID) program begun by the Bush administration to promote political
    change in Cuba.

    Cuban leaders say the program is just another in a long line of U.S.
    attempts at subversion dating to the earliest days of the 1959
    revolution that put Fidel , now 84, in power. His younger brother
    succeeded him as president three years ago.

    Gross will be defended by Cuban lawyer Nuris Pinero, who is well known
    in Cuba for participating in the defense of five Cuban agents jailed in
    the United States since 1998.

    Some believe that Pinero's presence hints at Cuba's desire to swap Gross
    for the agents, who were linked to a 1996 shootdown of two U.S. private
    planes by Cuban military jets.

    "U.S. DUPE" DEFENSE?

    Pinero likely will "portray Gross as a dupe of U.S. intelligence rather
    than someone with intent to damage the Cuban state," said Miami-based
    attorney Timothy Ashby, a former U.S. Commerce Department specialist on
    Cuba.

    Gross is the first American to be charged under a Cuban law that
    prohibits "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the
    state," which puts him in a precarious situation with a government
    intent on stopping U.S. interference.

    For Cuba, the case is an opportunity to dissuade others from working in
    the controversial U.S. programs, said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuba expert
    at the University of Denver.

    "Nobody after Gross will be able to say they ran the risk of sentences
    up to 20 years without knowing it," he said.

    Goodwill may be in short supply among Cuban leaders, who consistently
    and harshly express their frustration at lack of change in U.S. policy
    under President Barack Obama.

    He has taken modest steps to improve relations by easing the
    long-standing U.S. trade against the island but Cubans say Obama
    has done too little to end five decades of hostility.

    U.S. activities in Cuba may be on trial in the case as much as Gross.

    In the past few days, Cuba has revealed with great fanfare two
    government agents who infiltrated two of Cuba's best-known dissident
    groups — the and the Cuban Commission of
    — for years.

    They have talked at length about U.S. backing for dissidents, who they
    said were in it for the money that flowed from Washington and Cuban
    exile groups in Miami.

    (Additional reporting by Esteban Israel; Editing by Bill Trott)

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110302/us_nm/us_cuba_usa_contractor_1