Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    US contractor convicted in Cuba; 15-year sentence

    Posted on Saturday, 03.12.11

    US contractor convicted in Cuba; 15-year sentence
    Associated Press

    — A Cuban court on Saturday found U.S. contractor Alan
    guilty of crimes against the state and sentenced him to 15 years in
    , a verdict that brought a swift and strongly worded condemnation
    from Washington.

    The court said prosecutors had proved that Gross, 61, was working on a
    "subversive" program paid for by the that aimed to bring
    down Cuba's revolutionary system. Prosecutors had sought a 20-year jail

    Gloria Berbena, a spokeswoman for the U.S. diplomatic mission on the
    island, termed the decision "appalling" and called on Cuba to release
    Gross immediately.

    "We reject and deplore this ruling," she told The Associated Press. "It
    is appalling that the Cuban government seeks to criminalize what most of
    the world deems normal, in this case access to information and technology."

    Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House's National Security
    Council, said the ruling "adds another injustice to ' ordeal."

    "He has already spent too many days in detention and should not spend
    one more," he said. "We urge the immediate release of Mr. Gross so that
    he can return home to his wife and family."

    Gross was in December 2009 while on a USAID-backed
    democracy-building project. The U.S. government and Gross's family say
    he was working to improve access for the island's Jewish
    community, did nothing wrong, and should be released.

    Cuban officials have called him a mercenary and maintained his motives
    were more nefarious. The court said the program that Gross worked on –
    part of a $20 million Washington-effort to support democracy on the
    island – showed that the U.S. government continues to seek the overthrow
    of a Cuban government ruled since 1959 by brothers Fidel and .

    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,
    Maryland-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.

    Since the trial began, Cuba has stepped up its denunciation of such
    programs. Last week, state television aired a program detailing the
    history of the USAID effort, with officials saying it showed Washington
    was waging a cyberwar. Cuban media have promised to air a second
    installment on Monday, possibly including footage of Gross's testimony
    at the trial, which was closed to the foreign press.

    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 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 Development Alternatives
    is no longer part of the program.

    While the verdict was not unexpected, it is sure to have a chilling
    impact on relations. U.S. officials have said repeatedly that no
    rapprochement is possible while Gross remains jailed.

    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.

    Supporters, from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, to U.S. Jewish groups, have
    already made impassioned pleas to Cuban President Raul to free
    Gross. Jackson offered to fly to Havana personally to mediate, reprising
    a role he has played previously in Cuba and elsewhere.

    Several Cuba experts have said Havana hoped to use Gross's case to shine
    a light on the democracy-building programs. Now that he has been
    convicted, they argue, Cuba has no strategic reason to keep him in
    prison much longer.

    However, such a process could take weeks or months to play out, if it
    happens at all.

    Gross's American lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, said his client's family was
    "devastated by the verdict and harsh sentence."

    He said he would work with Gross's Cuban lawyer to seek his release
    through appeal or other avenue."

    The court is made up of a five-judge panel, including three professional
    judges and two citizens trained to hear cases and empaneled for a month.
    A simple majority is enough to convict. The newscast did not say whether
    the decision was unanimous.