Cuba to hear jailed American Gross’ appeal July 22
Cuba to hear jailed American Gross' appeal July 22
By PETER ORSI, Associated Press
HAVANA (AP) — Cuba's Supreme Court has set a July 22 date to consider an
appeal by U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced to 15 years in
prison on charges of illegally importing communications equipment, state
television said Thursday.
"The accused and his lawyer were informed of the decision this morning
… as well as U.S. authorities," said an official message that was also
posted on government websites.
The appeal is Gross' final legal recourse, and after that it would be
left to the Cuban government to consider whether to free him for
humanitarian or political reasons.
Gross' daughter and elderly mother both have cancer, and State
Department officials and his family have expressed hope that Cuba might
release him on humanitarian grounds.
"We again call on the Cuban government to immediately and
unconditionally release him," said Gloria Berbena, a spokeswoman for the
U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which Washington maintains here
instead of an embassy. "We will continue to use all diplomatic channels
to press for his release. He should be reunited with his family, and
bring an end to his ordeal."
Gross, 61, of Montgomery County, Maryland, was working on a USAID-funded
democracy-building program when he was arrested in December 2009. On
March 11 he was sentenced to 15 years after being convicted of illegally
importing communications equipment.
Cuba considers such programs to be aimed at undermining the government,
and he was convicted under a statute outlawing "acts against the
independence or territorial integrity of the state."
"Considerable evidence from witnesses, experts and documentation
demonstrated his direct participation in a subversive project of the
U.S. government to try to destroy the revolution," Thursday's official
Gross has said he was working to improve Internet communications for
Cuba's Jewish community, though Jewish leaders denied dealing with him.
The case has been a sticking point for relations that have largely been
on ice since shortly after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, with Cuba calling
Gross a spy and the U.S. saying no thaw is possible while he remains
Cuban officials have publicly ruled out the idea of a swap for five
Cuban agents sent to monitor militant anti-Castro Cuban exile groups in
the United States and sentenced to lengthy prison terms there.
According to people who have been able to visit him at a military
hospital in Havana, Gross, about 50 pounds overweight when he was
arrested, has lost nearly 100 pounds in custody and is generally in good
spirits though anxious to return home.
He has received periodic visits by U.S. diplomats on the island; by a
U.S. delegation last month that included Democratic political strategist
Donna Brazile and a member of Gross' Jewish congregation back in
Washington, and in March by former President Jimmy Carter.
The case also sparked a congressional fight in Washington with
Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, holding up $20 million in
U.S. money slated for democracy programs in Cuba and suggesting they
were responsible for Gross' imprisonment.
That drew the ire of Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuba-born
Republican who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She accused
her Senate counterpart of failing to understand what she called "the
brutal nature of the Havana tyranny."