U.S. contractor awaits verdict after two-day trial in Cuba

By Paul Haven
Sunday, March 6, 2011

HAVANA - The trial of a U.S. government contractor facing up to 20 years in jail on charges he sought to undermine Cuba's government wrapped up Saturday after both sides gave closing arguments, but with no indication of when a verdict might come.

A statement by the Cuban government Saturday night said that during the trial, Alan Gross accepted some responsibility, adding that he had been "used" and blamed the company that sent him to the island.

The fate of Gross, a 61-year-old Maryland native detained for more than a year since being caught bringing communications equipment onto the communist-run island, was in the hands of a five-judge panel.

Gloria Berbena, a spokeswoman for the U.S. diplomatic mission on the island, reiterated after the government statement was released that no verdict had been announced.

She said Gross's Cuban lawyer would be notified when a verdict was reached.

'Family remains hopeful'

Gross's American lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, issued a short statement earlier, saying only that the trial had ended and that "the family remains hopeful that Alan will be home soon." Gross was working for Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) as part of a USAID-backed "democracy building" program when he was arrested in December 2009. He has been held at Havana's maximum-security Villa Marista jail ever since, most of that time without charge.

His detention has worsened relations between Cuba and Washington, with U.S. officials making clear that no meaningful rapprochement is possible while Gross is in jail.

Cuba says USAID programs such as the one Gross was working on are aimed at overthrowing the government of President Raul Castro. U.S. officials and Gross's family insist he was trying to provide Internet service to the island's Jewish community and has done nothing wrong.

According to the government statement read on state television's main news broadcast, Gross "accused DAI of having put him in danger and leading to his current situation, to ruin the life and well-being of his family." The statement said the judges heard from 10 witnesses and nine experts and were presented with documentary and physical evidence during the two-day trial, which was closed to foreign journalists.

Should Gross be convicted, efforts would turn to getting him released through a court order or executive pardon, possibly on humanitarian grounds. His wife and U.S. officials say Gross has lost more than 90 pounds while in jail and note that his 26-year-old daughter and 88-year-old mother both have cancer.

Source of irritation

Several analysts say Cuba wanted to use the case to shine a light on the USAID programs, which have long been a source of irritation in Havana. With the trial over, they say, Cuba has no strategic reason to keep Gross in jail much longer.

The trial began Friday with about nine hours of testimony in a mansion-turned-courtroom in a once-prosperous neighborhood of Havana.

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