Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Top lawmakers in dispute over money for Cuba

    Top lawmakers in dispute over money for Cuba
    By DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press – Fri Jun 10, 5:49 pm ET

    WASHINGTON – A private congressional dispute over democracy programs in
    Cuba went public Friday, with a House committee chairwoman accusing her
    Senate counterpart of failing to understand what she calls "the brutal
    nature of the tyranny."

    Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee,
    criticized Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., for blocking $20 million in U.S.
    money slated for the programs this year and for suggesting that the
    programs led to the imprisonment of Alan , an American contractor
    jailed in Cuba.

    "U.S. democracy promotion programs in Cuba advance our foreign policy
    goals of helping to bring to the Cuban people and to facilitate
    a transition to democracy," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Senator
    Kerry has suggested that U.S. democracy promotion programs provoked the
    Cuban regime into wrongfully imprisoning a U.S. citizen who was helping
    the Cuban people overcome the dictatorship's censorship. I believe this
    demonstrates a lack of understanding of the brutal nature of the Havana
    tyranny. It is my hope that Senator Kerry will reconsider his position."

    The Florida Republican, who was born in Havana, also sent a letter to
    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praising the programs as
    critical and arguing that the struggle of the Cuban people is no less
    deserving that the U.S. support for activists in the Middle East and
    North Africa.

    Kerry's office had no immediate response to Ros-Lehtinen.

    Gross was working on a USAID-funded democracy-building program when he
    was in December 2009. In March, he was sentenced to 15 years in
    after being convicted of bringing communications equipment into
    Cuba illegally. His lawyer is appealing.

    Cuba considers the millions of dollars spent on USAID-funded projects to
    be aimed at toppling the government, and it has called Gross a spy. U.S.
    officials say relations with Havana cannot improve while he remains in jail.

    Gross' daughter and elderly mother both have cancer, and State
    Department officials have expressed hope that Cuba might release him on
    humanitarian grounds.