Corrected: Cuban case against U.S. man set for verdict

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:24 PM

(Corrects to make clear verdict, sentencing expected in next few days)

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - A Cuban court on Saturday declared that the case against U.S. contractor Alan Gross, who is accused of crimes against the Cuban state, has been concluded and is pending a verdict and sentencing in the next few days, the Cuban government said.

Gross is accused of illegally supplying Internet gear to Cuban dissidents and faces a possible 20-year sentence. According to Cuban state prosecutors, he was working under a U.S. government-funded program to destabilize Cuba's communist system.

In a two-day trial, Cuba accused Gross, 61, of distributing sophisticated satellite communications equipment for Internet access in violation of Cuban law.

He was officially charged with "acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state."

The Cuban statement, read on state-run television and published on an official website, said prosecutors had presented evidence that Gross was involved in a "subversive project to try to defeat the Revolution."

Prosecutors are seeking a 20-year sentence for the longtime development worker, who has been jailed since his arrest in Havana on December 3, 2009.

Gross, who looked gaunt in a business suit on Saturday, can appeal any eventual decision to Cuba's highest court. Wife Judy Gross said he has lost 90 pounds (41 kg) in jail.

The United States, at loggerheads with Cuba for more than five decades, said he was providing Internet access to Jewish groups, but committed no crime.

The case halted a brief warming in U.S.-Cuban relations and could do lasting damage if Gross is imprisoned for long.

Some observers think a political solution will be reached that will allow Gross to go free soon. But others believe Cuba has little interest in improving relations with the United States, which has imposed a trade embargo against the island since 1962.

Gross worked in Cuba on a tourist visa under a controversial U.S. Agency for International Development program aimed at promoting political change on the island.

The programs have been criticized in the United States for doing little more than provoking the Cuban government.

SABOTAGE

Cuban leaders view Gross' work as part of long-standing U.S. efforts to sabotage the communist government put in place after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959 revolution.

In a recently leaked video of a Ministry of Interior briefing, an Internet expert equated Gross to the "mercenaries" who took part in the 1961 U.S.-backed and unsuccessful invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs.

Internet access is limited in Cuba but the expert said the Internet is the latest front in the long ideological war between the two countries.

Cuba was expected to use the trial to put a spotlight on U.S. activities on the island, but excluded foreign press from covering it.

Judy Gross attended the trial with Gross's U.S. lawyer Peter Kahn, who was an observer while Cuban lawyers conducted his client's case.

"The family remains hopeful Alan will be home soon," Kahn said in a statement.

Judy Gross has pleaded for her husband's release on humanitarian grounds because their 26-year-old daughter and Alan Gross's 88-year-old mother both have cancer.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Washington on

Friday the United States was "deeply concerned" about the case and called for his release.

"He's been unjustly jailed for far too long," she said.

(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes, Marc Frank and Esteban Israel; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Bill Trott)