HAVANA – A Cuban court on Saturday found U.S. contractor Alan Gross guilty of crimes against the state and sentenced him to 15 years in prison, a verdict that brought a swift and strongly worded condemnation from Washington.
The court said prosecutors had proved that Gross, 61, was working on a “subversive” program paid for by the United States that aimed to bring down Cuba’s revolutionary system.
Gloria Berbena, a spokeswoman for the U.S. diplomatic mission on the island, termed the decision “appalling” and called on Cuba to release Gross immediately.
Gross was arrested in December 2009 while on a USAID-backed democracy-building project. The U.S. government and Gross’s family say he was working to improve Internet access for the island’s Jewish community, did nothing wrong and should be released.
Cuban officials have called him a mercenary and maintained his motives were more nefarious. The court said the program that Gross worked on – part of a $20 million Washington-effort to support democracy on the island – showed that the U.S. government continues to seek the overthrow of a Cuban government ruled since 1959 by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro.
While the verdict was not unexpected, it is sure to have a chilling impact on relations. U.S. officials have said repeatedly that no rapprochement is possible while Gross remains jailed.
Now that Gross has been convicted, his backers will try to get him released through a court action or executive pardon, possibly on humanitarian grounds. His wife, Judy, says Gross has lost more than 90 pounds since his arrest, and that his 26-year-old daughter and 88-year-old mother are both suffering from cancer.