Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    U.S. rejects conviction of contractor by Cuba, demands his release

    Posted on Sunday, 03.13.11

    U.S. rejects conviction of contractor by Cuba, demands his release

    Washington called on Cuba to release U.S. contractor Alan after he
    was sentenced to 15 years for crimes against the state.

    WASHINGTON — A U.S. contractor accused by Cuba of plotting to "destroy
    the revolution" was convicted of crimes against the state Saturday and
    sentenced to 15 years in , prompting protests from the White House
    and fury in Miami.

    The Associated Press reported from that a Cuban court said that
    prosecutors had proven that Alan Gross was working on a "subversive"
    program paid for by the that aimed to bring down the Cuban
    government. Prosecutors had sought a 20-year jail term during the
    two-day trial that ended last Saturday.

    The White House, which has called on Cuba to release Gross since he was
    in December 2009, called Saturday for his "immediate release,"
    saying the sentence "adds another injustice to Alan Gross' ordeal.

    "He has already spent too many days in detention and should not spend
    one more," said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House's National
    Security Council. "We urge the immediate release of Mr. Gross so that he
    can return home to his wife and family.

    Gross was arrested and jailed in Havana after he delivered at least one
    satellite telephone and other communications equipment as part of a U.S.
    Agency for International Development (USAID) effort to assist Jewish and
    other nongovernment groups in Cuba. A string of recent Cuban television
    reports alleged that the satellite phones for connections were
    just the latest tactic in Washington's long campaign to overthrow the
    communist government in Havana.

    Cuban law makes it for its citizens to receive assistance
    provided by campaigns run by USAID or other U.S. government agencies.
    Havana officials brand recipients as ''mercenaries."

    The case of Gross, a 61-year-old from Potomac, Md., has become a major
    stumbling block in the Obama administration's efforts to improve
    relations with Raúl 's government, with U.S. officials claiming
    that he did not violate any Cuban laws.

    His lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, said Saturday that Gross' family was
    "devastated by the verdict and harsh sentence." Noting that Gross has
    already served 15 months in prison, Kahn said: "Alan his family have
    paid an enormous personal price in the long-standing political feud
    between Cuba and the United States."

    Kahn said he would continue to work with Gross' Cuban lawyer to explore
    "any and all options," including the possibility of an appeal. "During
    this most difficult time for Alan and his family, we again call on the
    Cuban government to release him immediately on humanitarian grounds," he

    Possible release

    Some Cuba analysts have said that they expected Gross would be convicted
    and sentenced, but could be freed within months as a "humanitarian gesture."

    The Obama administration has said repeatedly over the past 15 months
    that any significant effort to improve relations with Havana must wait
    until Gross is freed, and any prison sentence is sure to further
    complicate frosty relations between the United States and its Cold War

    Critics of the administration's policy Saturday called on the United
    States to get tough with Cuba and repeal recent moves to ease travel

    The administration this week approved travel to Cuba from nine U.S.
    airports as part of an effort to make it easier for Cuban-Americans and
    licensed and church groups to travel there. The administration
    said its aim was to help civil society in Cuba. Critics said the move
    would only help the Castro government.

    "With Mr. Gross' sentencing, the Castro regime has effectively
    demonstrated the hopeless and dangerous naiveté of this administration's
    policy toward the regime," said Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida.
    "Mr. Gross is simply a humanitarian who was seeking to help the Jewish
    community in Cuba access the Internet, and he deserves to be freed and
    reunited with his family at once."

    Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House Foreign
    Affairs Committee, called on the United States and "all responsible
    nations" to "demand not only the release of Mr. Gross, but of all those
    wrongly imprisoned in Castro's dungeons.

    "We must increase pressure on the regime until the basic rights,
    freedoms, and dignities of the Cuban people are respected," she said.

    The Havana court found the evidence presented at the trial "demonstrated
    the participation of the North American contractor in a subversive
    project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the Revolution
    through the use of communications systems out of the control of
    authorities," according to a statement read out on the afternoon news.

    'Being manipulated'

    It said that during testimony in the two-day trial, Gross "recognized
    having been used and manipulated" by his company — Bethesda, Md.-based
    Development Alternatives, Inc. — as well as by USAID and the State
    Department. It said he has the right to appeal the sentence to the
    Supreme People's Tribunal, Cuba's equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Development Alternatives 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 speaking 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 after Gross' arrest. The money has begun
    flowing again, though U.S. officials say Development Alternatives is no
    longer part of the program.

    Now that Gross has been convicted, his backers will try to get him
    released through a court action or executive pardon, possibly on
    humanitarian grounds. His wife, Judy, says Gross has lost more than 90
    pounds since his arrest, and that his 26-year-old daughter and
    88-year-old mother are both suffering from cancer, the AP said.
    Supporters, from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to U.S. Jewish groups, have
    already made impassioned pleas to Cuban President Raúl Castro to free Gross.

    At least 14 witnesses testified at Gross' trial, including Cuban
    intelligence agents and members of the island's Jewish community, the
    State Department's top man on Cuba told lawmakers last week in a
    telephone briefing on the trial.

    After the briefing, Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera complained in a
    letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that State Department
    official Peter Brennan had said that there is no planned U.S. government
    response "to the all but certain conviction and sentencing of Mr. Gross."