Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Half-Century of Conflict Backdrop to Alan Gross Trial


    Half-Century of Conflict Backdrop to Alan Trial
    By Dalia Acosta

    , Mar 4, 2011 (IPS) – More than 50 years of conflict between Cuba
    and the , and in particular Washington's consistent support
    for dissidents in this Caribbean island nation, will leave their mark on
    the trial of U.S. citizen that began this Friday.

    Gross was Dec. 3, 2009 when he was attempting to return to the
    U.S. after his fifth visit to Cuba in nine months. He is accused of acts
    against the independence and integrity of Cuba, punishable by up to 20
    years imprisonment.

    The 61-year-old U.S. citizen works for Development Alternatives Inc.
    (DAI), based in Bethesda, Maryland, near Washington DC, which carries
    out development work in other countries. At the time of his arrest he
    was a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International
    Development (USAID).

    As well as alleged involvement in spying, Cuban sources have maintained
    for months that Gross illegally brought in satellite communications
    equipment to hand over to internal groups, as part of a
    programme financed by USAID.

    "He violated Cuban laws and national sovereignty and has committed
    crimes which in the United States carry heavy sentences," Ricardo
    Alarcón, president of the Cuban parliament, said Dec. 10.

    Officials in the government of U.S. President Barack Obama and Gross's
    defence attorney, however, insist that the contractor was on the island
    to help the small Cuban Jewish community connect to the , which
    they say is a global right.

    "We have made it very clear to the Cuban government that the continued
    detention of Alan Gross is a major impediment to advancing the dialogue
    between our two countries," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J.
    Crowley said Dec. 3.

    A possible swap of Gross for one or more of the five Cuban agents
    convicted of espionage and serving sentences in the United States, but
    regarded as anti-terrorism fighters by Havana, was apparently also ruled
    out by both sides in mid-2010.

    Leaders of the Jewish community and of the Cuban Council of Churches
    denied any contact with the U.S. contractor. Meanwhile, Washington
    devoted 2.6 million dollars to Gross's defence, out of its 20 million
    dollar 2010 budget for supporting democracy on the island.

    "Gross was not arrested because he is Jewish," said Arturo López-Levy, a
    Cuban lecturer at the of Denver, Colorado. Jewish delegations
    from the United States travel regularly to Cuba, and many of them "have
    donated computers and cellphones to Cuban Jews," he said.

    "But none of these groups has a declared strategy of imposing regime
    change in Cuba through laws approved by the U.S. Congress," he added,
    calling for a review of programmes to promote a political transition in
    Cuba, inherited from the administration of George W. Bush (2001-2009).

    The Cuban Democracy Act, approved by the U.S. Congress in 1992,
    authorised financial assistance to individuals and organisations working
    for "non-violent democratic change" in this socialist country.

    According to Cuban-American lawyer José Pertierra, after Bush took
    office "the budget for fomenting an opposition in Cuban society allied
    to the interests of Miami (where most Cuban exiles live) and the White
    House increased astronomically, from 3.5 million dollars in 2000 to 45
    million in 2008."

    Local observers speculate that the key issue now could be Cuba's
    interest in demonstrating links between dissidents and Washington. In
    the view of government authorities, the opposition in Cuba exists only
    because of financial and logistical support from the United States.

    Perhaps the same reason might underlie the Feb. 26 broadcast of the
    story of two Cuban state security agents who for years infiltrated
    opposition groups like the National Commission for and
    National Reconciliation, and the .

    A documentary screened on national television went beyond the personal
    experiences of Moisés Rodríguez and Carlos Manuel Serpa to delve into
    the permanent links between dissident groups and the U.S. Interests
    Section in Havana, and how U.S. funds and other material aid enter the
    country and are distributed among them.

    The Cuban agents expressed the view that obtaining money and a refugee
    visa are the main motives for dissidents to become involved in what the
    Cuban government regards as mercenary activities.

    In addition to direct cash transfers, the government views international
    prizes awarded to dissident groups as another form of financing, like
    those received by the Ladies in White, a group of women who since 2003
    have organised protests on behalf of their imprisoned husbands, or Yoani
    Sánchez, author of the Generation Y .