Thursday, February 24, 2011

US says Cuba has set date to try detained American

Posted on Thursday, 02.24.11

US says Cuba has set date to try detained American
Associated Press

HAVANA -- An American contractor jailed since December 2009 on suspicion
of spying will go on trial in Cuba on March 4, U.S. diplomats and
state-run Cuban media said Thursday, in a case sure to have profound
ramifications for relations between the two Cold War enemies.

Cuban prosecutors are seeking a 20-year prison term for Alan Gross, a
61-year-old native of Potomac, Maryland, who was working for a firm
contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was
arrested and sent to Havana's high-security Villa Marista prison.

The U.S. government and Gross' family say he was distributing
communications equipment to the island's Jewish community when he was
arrested. Cuba says he was part of a multimillion-dollar plan to
destabilize the government, and charged him with "acts against the
integrity and independence" of the country.

Cuban officials informed the U.S. State Department of the trial date on
Wednesday, Molly Koscina, a spokeswoman for America's diplomatic mission
in Havana, told The Associated Press. She added that Gross has also been
notified that a trial date has been set.

"The Office of Cuban Affairs in Washington DC was informed yesterday,"
Koscina said. "The Cuban government has said that the family can travel
and that U.S. officials can attend."

Cuban state-media confirmed the trial date, and said the proceedings
would be held at Havana's Popular Provisional Tribunal.

"This information was transmitted through diplomatic channels to the
United States government, which was also notified that consular
representatives, family members of Mr. Gross and his family lawyers can
participate in the trial," said a report on the state-run news Website

Judy Gross, Alan Gross' wife, said in an e-mail to the AP that she
understands the trial is likely to last one or two days, but she said
she has not yet decided if she will attend. The couple's 26-year-old
daughter is currently recovering from surgery for breast cancer, and
Alan Gross' mother was just diagnosed with lung cancer, making travel

"Now, more than ever, I beg the Cuban government to let Alan come home
on humanitarian grounds. He has already served a 15-month prison
sentence," she wrote.

She said she is worried about her husband's ability to "sustain the
emotional pain and stress he is under," as well as his health. He has
lost more than 90 pounds since being imprisoned.

News that a date would be set for Gross's trial came first in a Twitter
posting sent from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, though he did
not state the date.

Crowley said in the Twitter posting that the U.S. hopes Gross will
receive a fair trial and can be allowed to come home. He said what Gross
did "is not a crime."

Relations between Cuba and the United States have reverted to their icy
norm after a brief period of optimism following the election of U.S.
President Barack Obama that the countries could put away their decades
of enmity.

On Wednesday, Obama denounced Cuba's human rights record and called on
President Raul Castro's government to release political prisoners and
stop harassing the mother of a Cuban hunger striker who died last year.

While Obama's administration has taken several steps to loosen some
travel and financial restrictions on Cuba, U.S. officials have said
repeatedly that relations cannot improve in any meaningful way while
Gross remains in custody.

The United States has maintained a 48-year trade embargo on Cuba.

As recently as January, a senior State Department official was allowed
to meet with Gross in custody, and U.S. officials were voicing optimism
he would soon be released.

One scenario mentioned privately at the time was that the American might
be convicted, sentenced to time served and deported. But that was before
Cuban prosecutors announced earlier this month that they would seek such
a lengthy jail term.

The project Gross worked with was part of a $40 million-a-year USAID
program to promote democracy and political change on the island.

U.S. officials have defended the program and said they will never stop
supporting democracy and openness in Cuba. Detractors of the Cuba
project have criticized it as ineffective and counterproductive.

While Gross claims to have been working with the 1,500-strong Jewish
community, the leaders of the island's two main Jewish groups have said
they had nothing to do with him.
Associated Press reporter Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to
this report.

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