Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cuban court convicts U.S. contractor

According to the Cuban press a court on the island convicted U.S. Agency for International Development worker Alan Gross for spying..

Cuban television reported tonight that Gross was found guilty of illegally supplying satellite phones and other technology to political dissidents. Prosecutors argued that he violated the "integrity and independence of Cuba". But the company he represented while in Cuba, Development Alternatives International, claimed that he was an aid worker contracted to provide Jewish communities with Internet equipment.

Little information has been published about the two-day trial that was conducted behind closed doors. According to BBC News, however, Gross "was said to have looked gaunt in court on Saturday" and he allegedly developed arthritis while in prison.

The conviction of Gross, who has been imprisoned since being arrested in December 2009, could significantly worsen U.S.-Cuba relations. Ties between the countries were gradually improving under the Obama administration, yet the head of U.S. diplomacy blasted Gross' detention by Cuban authorities:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Friday that Gross had been "unjustly jailed for far too long." He needs to be able to leave Cuba and return home, she said. This is a matter "of great personal pain" to his family and concern to the U.S. government.
Gross' sentence will be determined in the next few days though prosecutors sought a twenty-year prison sentence. He has the right to appeal his punishment in Cuba's highest court.

The need to treat Gross' faltering health (including suffering from ulcers and gouts) brings up the possibility that the Cuban government could advocate a prisoner exchange with the U.S. Yet the State Department last month rejected the possibility of exchanging Gross for one of the "Cuban 5" imprisoned in the U.S. since 1998 on charges of espionage.

Online Sources - AFP, BBC News, The Lattn Americanist, Xinhua, Reuters, CNN
Image - "Handout/AP Photo" via ("This undated family photo released by Judy Gross shows her with her husband Alan Gross, left, in an undisclosed location.")

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