U.S. Rejects Conviction of Contractor by Cuba, Demands His Release
A U.S. contractor accused by Cuba of plotting to “destroy the revolution” was convicted of crimes against the state Saturday and sentenced to 15 years in prison, prompting protests from the White House and fury in Miami.
The Associated Press reported from Havana that a Cuban court said that prosecutors had proven that Alan Gross was working on a “subversive” program paid for the United States that aimed to bring down the Cuban government. Prosecutors had sought a 20-year jail term during the two-day trial that ended last Saturday.
The White House, which has called on Cuba to release Gross since he was arrested in December 2009, called Saturday for his “immediate release,” saying the sentence “adds another injustice to Alan Gross’s ordeal.
“He has already spent too many days in detention and should not spend one more,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council. “We urge the immediate release of Mr. Gross so that he can return home to his wife and family.
Gross was arrested and jailed in Havana after he delivered at least one satellite telephone and other communications equipment as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) effort to assist Jewish and other nongovernment groups in Cuba. A string of recent Cuban television reports alleged that the satellite phones for Internet connections were just the latest tactic in Washington’s long campaign to overthrow the communist government in Havana.
Cuban law makes it illegal for its citizens to receive assistance provided by campaigns run by USAID or other U.S. government agencies. Havana officials brand recipients as ‘‘mercenaries.”
The case of Gross, a 61-year-old from Potomac, Md., has become a major stumbling block in the Obama administration’s efforts to improve relations with Raúl Castro’s government, with U.S. officials claiming that he did not violate any Cuban laws.
His lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, said Saturday that Gross’s family was “devastated by the verdict and harsh sentence.” Noting that Gross has already served 15 months in prison, Kahn said: “Alan his family have paid an enormous personal price in the long-standing political feud between Cuba and the United States.”
Kahn said he would continue to work with Gross’s Cuban lawyer to explore “any and all options,” including the possibility of an appeal. “During this most difficult time for Alan and his family, we again call on the Cuban government to release him immediately on humanitarian grounds,” he said.
Some Cuba analysts have said that they expected Gross would be convicted and sentenced, but could be freed within months as a “humanitarian gesture.”
The Obama administration has said repeatedly over the past 15 months that any significant effort to improve relations with Havana must wait until Gross is freed, and any prison sentence is sure to further complicate frosty relations between the United States and its Cold War antagonist.
Critics of the administration’s policy Saturday called on the United States to get tough with Cuba and repeal recent moves to ease travel restrictions.
The administration this week approved travel to Cuba from nine U.S. airports as part of an effort to make it easier for Cuban-Americans and licensed school and church groups to travel there. The administration said its aim was to help civil society in Cuba. Critics said the move would only help the Castro government.