Cuban trial of U.S. aid contractor resumes

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:23 PM
Cuban trial of U.S. aid contractor resumes

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - The trial of an American aid contractor facing up to 20 years in jail for his work in a U.S. program promoting political opposition in communist Cuba moved into a second day on Saturday with more testimony and possibly final arguments expected.

Alan Gross, 61, was an active participant in his own case in the trial's first day on Friday, making what the Cuban government described as a "free declaration" and mounting what his U.S. attorney called a "vigorous defense."

Gross is fighting for his freedom because prosecutors are seeking a 20-year sentence if as expected he is convicted of supplying 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 put the brakes on a brief warming in U.S.-Cuban relations and could do lasting damage if Gross is imprisoned for long. There is speculation a political solution will be reached that will allow Gross to go free soon.

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 odds with Cuba for more than five decades, said he helped provide Internet service to Jewish groups but committed no crimes.

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.

IDEOLOGICAL WAR

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.

In a statement on Friday night, the government said Gross spoke freely and answered questions from prosecutors, his attorneys and the panel of judges hearing the case.

Without naming them, it said other witnesses testified and evidence was presented. More of the same was expected for Saturday, the statement said.

Verdicts are usually rendered quickly in Cuban trials but decisions on sentencing can take several days.

Gross, dressed in civilian clothes, could be seen from a distance arriving on at the court on Saturday.

His wife Judy Gross also is attending and smiled without speaking when reporters asked for comment as she walked into the court. She was accompanied by Gross's U.S. lawyer Peter Kahn, who is observing the trial while Cuban lawyers conduct his client's defense.

U.S. 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.

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

(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes and Esteban Israel; Editing by Eric Walsh)