US hopes Cuba will release jailed American
By PAUL HAVEN
HAVANA -- A senior U.S. diplomat said Washington hopes an American
government contractor imprisoned in Cuba will be released, even as the
Maryland native was making a final appeal Friday to have his 15-year
prison sentence be reduced or dismissed.
Alan Gross has been held since his arrest in December 2009, accused of
bringing satellite and other communication equipment into the country
illegally. He has acknowledged he was working on a USAID-funded
democracy program, but says he meant no harm to the government and was
only trying to help the island's small Jewish community.
Cuba considers the $20 million-a-year programs a threat to its
sovereignty and has used the case to expose what it sees as Washington's
long history of meddling in its internal affairs.
Julissa Reynoso, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for
Western Hemisphere affairs, told The Associated Press the United States
was following the case closely.
"We hope that Alan Gross is released," she said.
Oral arguments in Friday's hearing were expected to be handled by Gross'
Cuban attorney Nuris Pinero. It was not immediately clear if Gross
himself would be present. A decision in the case is expected in coming
While U.S. officials have said they do not anticipate Gross' conviction
being overturned outright, there is hope that the end of the legal
process might clear the way for his release on humanitarian grounds.
Gross has lost 100 pounds in jail, and several of his family members are
suffering from serious illnesses.
Cuban officials have said privately they are sympathetic to humanitarian
appeals, but would not consider them until Cuba's Supreme Court weighs in.
Gross' arrest sparked debate in Washington over the efficacy of the
democracy programs, which are passionately supported by several
Cuban-American politicians. In April, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Chairman John Kerry put a hold on funding, arguing that the programs
don't work and have in fact harmed U.S. interests.
"There is no evidence ... that the democracy promotion programs, which
have cost the U.S. taxpayer more than $150 million so far, are helping
the Cuban people," Kerry said at the time. "Nor have they achieved much
more than provoking the Cuban government to arrest a U.S. government
Kerry said last week he was close to ending the funding hold after
getting assurances from USAID and the State Department that the money
would be used more wisely in the future.
Reynoso told AP the democracy programs, which originally were explicit
in trying to foment regime change in Cuba, had been significantly
altered since President Brack Obama took office. Other State Department
officials pointed to efforts to target new funding to support minorities
such as the island's gay and lesbian community, as well as people of
"The programs have gone through an elaborate review over the last year
and a half, two years, and we believe that these programs help the Cuban
people, give them greater opportunities, provide for access to
information and access to human rights tools," Reynoso said.
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