U.S. aid worker Alan Gross was sentenced Saturday (March 12) to 15 years in prison for crimes against the Cuban state, a ruling that is expected to add tension to the already troubled relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Gross, who has been detained since December 2009, was found guilty of working on a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded “subversive” program, according to a Cuban court.
Prosecutors had sought a 20-year sentence for Gross, who was engaged by U.S. development firm DAI to implement USAID projects meant to promote freedom and democracy in Cuba.
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The Cuban court found that the evidence presented at the two-day trial, which concluded March 5, “demonstrated the participation of the North American contractor in a subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the Revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of authorities,” The Associated Press quotes a statement read out on the afternoon news.
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Calls for Gross’ release
In a March 12 statement, DAI said it was “profoundly disappointed” with the ruling.
“Alan Gross has been accused of doing nothing more than giving peaceful people access to the internet, and for this he has already been unjustly imprisoned for more than a year without the benefit of due process and in violation of international law,” the development contracting firm said. “In light of the critical medical situation confronting Alan and his family, we urge the Cuban government to release him immediately on humanitarian grounds and quickly return him to his family.”
The U.S. government has been defending Gross, saying he was only providing satellite communications equipment and Internet access to Jewish groups in Cuba.
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said the ruling “adds another injustice to Alan Gross’ ordeal.”
“He has already spent too many days in detention and should not spend one more,” he was quoted by AP as saying. “We urge the immediate release of Mr. Gross so that he can return home to his wife and family.”
The U.S. State Department also called on Cuba to “immediately and unconditionally” release Gross, according to a March 12 statement.
Meanwhile, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the ruling “a shameless act by a desperate regime,” urging the release of Gross and “all those wrongly imprisoned in Castro’s dungeons.”
Prospects for early release
Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Washington-based Lexington Institute, expects Gross’ early release as more probable on humanitarian grounds, The Wall Street Journal reports.
“I don’t think [the verdict] is necessarily the final word,” he said. “I don’t see it in Cuba’s interest to hold him for a long period of time.”
Julia Sweig, director for Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, also raised a similar point, noting that the Cuban government may eventually free Gross to avoid further political tensions.
“There’s no real value to the government of Cuba in keeping him in jail for those 15 years,” she was quoted by The Washington Post as saying.
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