U.S. contractor sentenced to 15 years in Cuba trial
By Jeff Franks Jeff Franks – Sat Mar 12, 2:12 pm ET
HAVANA (Reuters) – U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against the Cuban state, state-run television reported on Saturday, in the latest setback to relations between two Cold War enemies.
A panel of judges reached the decision after a two-day trial last week in which prosecutors said Gross was involved in what the government described as a U.S.-funded "subversive project" to "topple the Revolution."
The case was the latest flare-up in U.S.-Cuba relations that have been sour since a 1959 revolution put Fidel Castro in power.
Gross, 61, was convicted of "acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state" for working to set up clandestine Internet networks for Cuba dissidents using "sophisticated" communications technology.
Prosecutors sought a 20-year sentence for the longtime development worker, who has been jailed since his arrest in Havana on December 3, 2009. Gross can and likely will appeal the case to Cuba's highest court.
His detention brought to a halt a mild warming in U.S.-Cuba relations after U.S. President Barack Obama took office and the United States has said it will not take any more initiatives with the Caribbean island until Gross is free.
The United States has repeatedly demanded his release. It has contended from the beginning that Gross was only setting up Internet access for the island's small Jewish community, which numbers about 1,200.
But Cuban prosecutors said he targeted young people, universities, religious groups, women's groups, racial groups and cultural types.
Gross worked in Cuba on a tourist visa under a controversial U.S. Agency for International Development program aimed at promoting political change on the island.
The programs have been criticized in the United States for doing little more than provoking the Cuban government.
Cuba views the activities as part of the longstanding U.S. efforts to subvert the government and has made them illegal.
Although Internet access is limited in Cuba, a recently leaked video of a Ministry of Interior briefing showed an expert saying the Internet was the latest front in the two countries' long ideological war.
Some observers think a political solution will be reached that will allow Gross to go free soon. But others believe Cuba has little interest in improving relations with the U.S., which has imposed a trade embargo against the island since 1962.
Wife Judy Gross, who attended the trial, 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.
Cuba was expected to use the trial to put a spotlight on U.S. activities on the island, but instead aired two television programs showing what it portrayed as U.S. treachery on the island.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)
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