Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    US hopes Cuba will release jailed American

    Posted on Thursday, 07.21.11

    US hopes Cuba will release jailed American
    Associated Press

    — A senior U.S. diplomat said Washington hopes an American
    government contractor imprisoned in Cuba will be released, even as the
    Maryland native was making a final appeal Friday to have his 15-year
    sentence be reduced or dismissed.

    has been held since his arrest in December 2009, accused of
    bringing satellite and other communication equipment into the country
    illegally. He has acknowledged he was working on a USAID-funded
    democracy program, but says he meant no harm to the government and was
    only trying to help the island's small Jewish community.

    Cuba considers the $20 million-a-year programs a threat to its
    sovereignty and has used the case to expose what it sees as Washington's
    long history of meddling in its internal affairs.

    Julissa Reynoso, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for
    Western Hemisphere affairs, told The Associated Press the
    was following the case closely.

    "We hope that Alan is released," she said.

    Oral arguments in Friday's hearing were expected to be handled by Gross'
    Cuban attorney Nuris Pinero. It was not immediately clear if Gross
    himself would be present. A decision in the case is expected in coming

    While U.S. officials have said they do not anticipate Gross' conviction
    being overturned outright, there is hope that the end of the legal
    process might clear the way for his release on humanitarian grounds.
    Gross has lost 100 pounds in jail, and several of his family members are
    suffering from serious illnesses.

    Cuban officials have said privately they are sympathetic to humanitarian
    appeals, but would not consider them until Cuba's Supreme Court weighs in.

    Gross' arrest sparked debate in Washington over the efficacy of the
    democracy programs, which are passionately supported by several
    Cuban-American politicians. In April, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
    Chairman John Kerry put a hold on funding, arguing that the programs
    don't work and have in fact harmed U.S. interests.

    "There is no evidence … that the democracy promotion programs, which
    have cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping
    the Cuban people," Kerry said at the time. "Nor have they achieved much
    more than provoking the Cuban government to arrest a U.S. government

    Kerry said last week he was close to ending the funding hold after
    getting assurances from USAID and the State Department that the money
    would be used more wisely in the future.

    Reynoso told AP the democracy programs, which originally were explicit
    in trying to foment regime change in Cuba, had been significantly
    altered since President Brack Obama took office. Other State Department
    officials pointed to efforts to target new funding to support minorities
    such as the island's gay and lesbian community, as well as people of
    Afro-Cuban descent.

    "The programs have gone through an elaborate review over the last year
    and a half, two years, and we believe that these programs help the Cuban
    people, give them greater opportunities, provide for access to
    information and access to tools," Reynoso said.

    Paul Haven can be reached at