Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    With American In Cuban Prison, Wife Hopes For Clemency

    With American In Cuban , Wife Hopes For Clemency

    Convicted Of Trying To Subvert Cuban Gov't
    From Jill Dougherty,CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent
    POSTED: 7:27 pm EDT September 2, 2011

    WASHINGTON (CNN) — Judy Gross sits at her dining table in her apartment
    in Washington, D.C., typing away on her laptop. She's checking messages
    from friends and supporters and, she says, after a full day working as a
    clinical social worker at a suburban , she often ends up
    spending another three or four hours at the computer every evening.

    Her husband of 41 years, Alan Gross, sits in a Cuban prison, convicted
    of trying to subvert the Cuban government. He was sentenced in May to 15
    years in prison for "acts against the territorial integrity of the
    state." A Cuban court rejected his appeal in August.

    "One of my biggest fears is I'm going to get a call from my attorney one
    day, saying Alan had a heart attack or something happened to him," she
    says. "I don't know if I'll ever see him again. I don't know if he'll
    step foot on U.S. soil."

    Alan Gross is a development expert who has worked in almost 50 countries
    around the world. He was visiting Cuba as a subcontractor for a
    democracy program of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

    Gross was carrying several laptops and BGANs, terminals used to connect
    a laptop directly to a satellite for connection to the , a USAID
    official says. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of
    the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.

    The equipment is in Cuba without government permission, but a
    source close to the case told CNN that "at trial, the defense presented
    a receipt from Cuban to demonstrate the Cubans were both aware
    of and approved what Alan brought in."

    "The Cuban government did not charge Alan with bringing illegal
    equipment," says the source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
    "The charge and conviction were on crimes against the state, in other
    words, activity to undermine the sovereignty of Cuba, which is simply

    Judy Gross last saw her husband in the courtroom nearly six
    months ago.

    She says he has gone from a vigorous 62-year-old to a gaunt, pale, old
    man. "He's so frail, now he has lost over 100 pounds. And when I saw
    him, I could see his bones sticking out."

    She reads aloud from a copy of the statement her husband wrote by hand
    and then presented in court at his sentencing. "I respect the
    sovereignty of Cuba," it says. "I have learned from my parents and
    through experience that respect is something that one must have, in
    order to receive."

    "Is that what he sounds like?" she is asked. "Oh, yeah. Very outgoing,
    very confident, very moral, very ethical."

    Judy Gross is appealing to Cuban President and to the Cuban
    government to release her husband on humanitarian grounds. She has been
    ill and their daughter has cancer.

    Meanwhile, USAID says it has re-evaluated how it carries out its
    democracy programs, which it conducts in other countries as well,
    including the Balkans, Belarus, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

    "We decided, after he got , we're not authorizing BGAN equipment
    in Cuba," the official says. "But we are still continuing to reach out
    to people in Cuba and provide them uncensored Internet information. …
    "We're continuing to carry out the spirit of the work that Alan was
    there to do."

    The official disputes that such programs are aimed at "regime change."

    "These are not about regime change," the official says. "We're not there
    actively trying to topple the government. People accuse USAID of
    having that kind of posture with these programs, but that's just not the
    case. This is about creating civil society space, democratic space and
    (is) consistent with what we do all over the world.

    "These are discreet programs. They are run in a discreet manner," the
    official adds. They are not covert, not clandestine, because that is not
    an intelligence operation. We don't do intelligence."

    But what if the Cuban government says that such programs violate its
    laws, the official is asked.

    "Cuban law is capricious and subject to the whims of those who are
    controlling it at that time. So we don't use Cuban law as a guide to
    these kinds of efforts in that Cuban law also violates longstanding and
    international human-rights protocols."

    The Cuban people have the right to unfettered access to information, he

    "These are people who just want to have access to The New York Times or and they can't because the regime says you can't."

    Alan Gross's imprisonment is affecting not only his family, it's also
    affecting relations between the and Cuba, which had been
    generally improving.

    The State Department says Gross's case is a "major impediment" to that.