Cuba trial of U.S. contractor ends but no verdict yet

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:23 PM
Cuba trial of U.S. contractor ends but no verdict yet

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - The trial of U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross for crimes against the Cuban state ended on Saturday after two days of testimony, but judges were still mulling the verdict, a U.S. official said.

Gross, 61, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted for his work in a U.S. program to increase opposition to Cuba's one-party government.

"The trial was concluded, but a verdict was not announced," said a U.S. spokeswoman in Havana.

She said Gross' Cuban lawyer, Nuris Pinera, would be notified when the five-judge panel makes its decision, "but we have no timeline" when that will happen.

Cuba says Gross was distributing Internet equipment, including sophisticated satellite phones, to dissidents, in violation of Cuban law.

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

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

He has been an active participant in his case, making what the Cuban government described on Friday as a "free declaration" and mounting what his U.S. attorney called a "vigorous defense."

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

The longtime development worker was in Cuba on a tourist visa working in a controversial U.S. Agency for International Development program aimed at promoting political change on the island. He was arrested December 3, 2009 in a Havana hotel and has been in jail since.

The United States, at loggerheads with Cuba for more than five decades, said he helped provide Internet service to Jewish groups but committed no crimes.

SABOTAGE

Cuban leaders view Gross' work as more of long-standing U.S. efforts to sabotage the communist government put in place after Fidel Castro rose to 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.

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

Cuba was expected to use the trial to put a spotlight on U.S. activities on the island, but has excluded foreign press from covering it and made no mention of it on Saturday in the official newspaper Granma.

Judy Gross is attending the trial with Gross's U.S. lawyer Peter Kahn, who is observing while Cuban lawyers conduct his client's case.

"Alan Gross's trial concluded today in Cuba, the matter is now before a panel for decision. 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 Jackie Frank)