U.S. rejects conviction of contractor by Cuba, demands his release
Posted on Sunday, 03.13.11
ALAN GROSS CASE
U.S. rejects conviction of contractor by Cuba, demands his release
Washington called on Cuba to release U.S. contractor Alan Gross after he
was sentenced to 15 years for crimes against the state.
By LESLEY CLARK
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 prison, prompting protests from the White House
and fury in Miami.
The Associated Press reported from Havana that a Cuban court said that
prosecutors had proven that Alan Gross was working on a "subversive"
program paid for by the United States 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
arrested 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 Internet connections were
just the latest tactic in Washington's long campaign to overthrow the
communist government in Havana.
Cuban law makes it illegal 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 Castro'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
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 school 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.
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 tourist 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."