Alan Gross, a contractor from the U.S., was sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for crimes against the state on Friday. The U.S. wants Gross to be returned home. It seems cut and dry but was Gross a pawn in what Cuba claims by the United States?
The trial highlights the decades long fight between the two nations. Cuba and the United States have had tensions since the Bay of Pigs era with both nations.
According to Cuba the 61-year-old was working with to bring down Cuba and was helped by a "subversive" program paid for by the United States. Gross was working at a Bethesda firm, Development Alternatives. The company had won a $6 million contact to work in Cuba from the US.
The program had been around for years but President George Bush's administration had begun adding to the funding. The Washington Post reported that it was using travelers that appeared to be tourist to bring in communication materials like typewriter ribbons and laptops. The program rose some eyebrows with insiders knowing that someone could end up in jail in Cuba.
Gross was excited at the chance to go to Cuba despite not speaking the language fluently. His wife Judy says her husband loved adventure and travel reports the Washington Post. He went back and forth from his home in Maryland to Cuba five times. Those trips were a sure way to get Cuban authorities aware of him. He was not trained though on how to operate in Cuba. His company claims he knew the risks going in but acknowledged that he may have thought that the worst case scenario would be being turned away and told to leave the country, not being thrown into a jail cell.
"He loved the people," Judy said. "He would come home and have stories -- he ate at this person's house, and sat on the floor, and -- just all kinds of stories. And he loved the fruit of his work."
Gross was arrested in December 2009 while working on a USAID-backed democracy-building project that was to improve Internet access to Cuba's Jewish community.
USAID said in a statement that Gross was chosen because of his "strong expertise in sustainable development approaches, experience working in difficult environments and understanding of technological approaches to strengthening civil society."
Havana saw the program differently. The nation believed that it was a way for the United States to overthrow the Cuban government. According to cadenagramonte.cu Gross admitted that he was used and manipulated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
680 News reports that a statement read after the sentence in Havana said evidence at the trial "demonstrated the participation of the North American contractor in a subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the Revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of authorities."
In Cuba it is illegal to "participates in the distribution of financial . . . or other resources that come from the United States government, its agencies, subordinates, representatives, functionaries, or private entities." The crime carries a sentence term of three to eight years.
There is no question that Gross was in Cuba working to help the Jewish community communicate with the outside world. He was in Cuba under contract by the US State Department distributing cell phones and computers to the Jewish community.
Before the sentencing AFP reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated "Our decision to try to engage more with the Cuban government only indirectly by helping the Cuban people, is intended to try to strengthen direct engagement and provide more support for grass roots initiatives," she told lawmakers.
"We can certainly disagree about the tactics, but we have total agreement in what we are trying to achieve in terms of goals," she said.
Gross’s family “is devastated by the verdict and harsh sentence,” said his attorney, Peter Kahn, in a statement.
Gross will be allowed to file an appeal before the Court of Crimes against the State Security of the People’s Supreme Court.