Friday, February 18, 2011

US Diplomat Urges Cuba to Release Jailed Contractor

US Diplomat Urges Cuba to Release Jailed Contractor
VOA News February 18, 2011

The top U.S. diplomat for the Americas is calling for the "unconditional
release" of a U.S. contractor who has been held in Cuba for more than
one year on suspicion of spying.

Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela made the remark Thursday
in Washington during a hearing on Latin America. In his prepared
statement, Valenzuela said the U.S. deplores Cuba's recent announcement
that prosecutors there intend to seek a 20-year sentence against
contractor Alan Gross. Valenzuela described Gross as a dedicated
development worker who was in Cuba providing support to members of the
island's Jewish community.

Earlier this month, Cuban media reported that Gross is accused of
violating Cuba's independence and territorial integrity and that a trial
date would be set shortly. Officials there say the United States has
been informed of the decision through diplomatic channels and that
Gross's family will be allowed to attend the trial.

The White House has said the move "compounds the injustice" Gross has
already suffered. A recent statement said officials remain deeply
concerned for Gross's well-being and that of his family and called for
his immediate release. The State Department accused Cuba of violating
justice by holding Gross for so long before charging him.

Gross has been held since December 2009. Havana accuses him of
distributing illegal satellite equipment to dissident groups. The U.S.
says he works for a private firm outside Washington called Development
Alternatives, Incorporated. The company has said Gross was taking part
in a U.S. government-sponsored finance program to strengthen civil
society in Cuba. The U.S. has denied that Gross is a spy and previously
has called for his release.

An official at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana has told VOA that
Gross's continued detention is "an obstacle" for increased dialogue
between both countries. Jonathan Farrar made the remark during a recent
visit to VOA's Washington headquarters.

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