Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Trial of US contractor enters 2nd day in Cuba

    Posted on Saturday, 03.05.11

    Trial of US contractor enters 2nd day in Cuba
    Associated Press

    — The trial of a U.S. government contractor detained for more
    than a year and accused of seeking to undermine Cuba's government
    entered its second – and likely decisive – day Saturday, with testimony
    and closing arguments expected from both sides.

    Alan , who was in December 2009, stands accused of
    illegally bringing communications equipment into Cuba for Development
    Alternatives Inc. as part of a USAID-backed democracy program. His
    detention has worsened relations between the longtime enemies.

    Cuba says the USAID programs are aimed at overthrowing the government of
    President . U.S. officials and Gross' family insist he has
    done nothing wrong, and say he should be freed on humanitarian grounds
    in any case. Gross faces 20 years in jail if convicted.

    The trial began Friday with about nine hours of testimony in a
    mansion-turned-courtroom in a once-prosperous neighborhood of Havana.
    The proceedings were closed to foreign journalists, and Cuban state-run
    media have remained silent on the case.

    A thin-looking Gross was seen getting out of an official car and
    entering the court early Saturday, guarded by Cuban security personnel.
    His wife and lawyers arrived a short time later, signaling the start of
    the second day of the trial. U.S. consular officials were also present.
    All could be seen drinking water and chatting in a small garden outside
    the court during an apparent recess four hours later, before heading
    back inside.

    The Cuban Foreign Ministry released a statement saying Saturday's
    proceedings would include the presentation of further evidence and final
    statements from the and defense. Trials in Cuba generally
    only last for a day or two, meaning a verdict could come quickly.

    Sentencing, should Gross be convicted, would likely take place within
    two weeks.

    In describing Friday's session, the Foreign Ministry said Gross made a
    statement and answered questions of the prosecution, defense and court.
    It said other witnesses and experts also testified. It gave no specifics.

    Gross' American lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, said his client "presented a
    vigorous defense."

    He said Gross was suffering "extreme mental stress" and reiterated the
    family's call that he be released on humanitarian grounds. "We
    respectfully urge the Cuban authorities to free Alan immediately for
    time served."

    Gross' family and U.S. officials have said he was bringing
    communications equipment to Cuba's 1,500-strong Jewish community. Cuban
    Jewish groups denied having anything to do with him.

    In Washington on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
    said the U.S. government called on Cuba to release Gross and allow the
    61-year-old Maryland native to leave Cuba unconditionally.

    "He has been unjustly jailed for far too long," she said.

    Washington spent $20 million a year on Cuba democracy programs in 2009
    and 2010, with USAID controlling most of that and doling out the work to

    Development Alternatives Inc., or DAI, was awarded a multimillion-dollar
    contract for the program in which Gross was involved, and Gross received
    more than a half million dollars through his company, despite the fact
    he spoke little Spanish and had no history of working in Cuba. Gross
    traveled to the island several times over a short period on a
    visa, apparently raising Cuban suspicions.

    The USAID programs have been criticized repeatedly in congressional
    reports as being wasteful and ineffective, and funding was held up
    briefly in 2010 over concerns following Gross' arrest. The money has
    begun flowing again, though U.S. officials say DAI is no longer part of
    the program.

    Cuban authorities have not spoken publicly about the case against Gross.
    But a video that surfaced days before the charges were announced
    indicated prosecutors would likely argue that the USAID programs
    amounted to an attack on the island's sovereignty.

    Gross' wife, Judy, has appealed to Cuba to release her husband on
    humanitarian grounds, noting that he has lost a lot of weight in jail,
    that the couple's 26-year-old daughter, Shira, is suffering from cancer
    and that Gross' elderly mother is also very ill.