Last month, Alan Gross, a 61 year-old US aid contractor was sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison for crimes against the state. After a two-day trial, a panel of judges accused the American Jew of being involved in a US-funded “subversive project” to “topple the Revolution.” Actually, Gross was working for the Bethesda, Maryland-based Development Alternatives, Inc. on a USAID-backed democracy-building project. He was hired under an $8.6 million contract.
Bonnie Goldstein of PoliticsDaily.com, wrote last year, of the project, from the American perspective:
“Since 1996, a small effort to stick our thumb in the island’s eye developed with the formation of a “Cuba democracy program” within USAID to deliver “humanitarian aid” and “information” to “human rights and political activists” and families of dissidents. For years the democracy program’s budget, about $2 million to start with, was funneled into grants to Cuban American groups in Miami that ostensibly used the money to somehow promote freedoms for Cubans still on the island.”
Unfortunately, program funds were misused. A 2006 audit and investigation by the GAO highlighted taxpayer monies used to purchase Godiva chocolates, Nintendo GameBoys and cashmere sweaters. An alleged embezzlement scheme by another grantee was discovered in 2008, leading a member of the House to challenge USAID’s annual program allocation, which had by then grown to $45 million per year. The agency agreed to more closely monitor its contractors, and soon after Alan Gross was hired via DAI to travel to Cuba.
He was convicted of “acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state” for setting up covert Internet networks for Cuba dissidents utilizing “sophisticated” communications technology. The prosecutors sought a 20-year sentence for the worker, who has been jailed since his Havana arrest on December 3, 2009.
Immediately, the United States, who contended Gross was only setting up Internet access for the island’s Jewish community, came to his defense.
This week, former US President, Jimmy Carter, (famous for criticizing Israeli policy) is scheduled to meet with Jewish leaders in Cuba concerning Gross. According to the agenda, Carter is scheduled to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega before leaving on Wednesday.
The trip is under the aegis of the Carter Center, who insist the trip’s aim is to discuss economic policies and improve relations between the US and Cuba.
US officials insist that the 15-year sentence imposed on Gross is a “stumbling block to any rapprochement…” between the nations.
In a statement welcoming Carter’s mission, Gross’s wife, Judy, said:
“If he is able to help Alan in any way while he is there, we will be extraordinarily grateful,” she said in the emailed statement. “Our family is desperate for Alan to return home, after nearly 16 months in prison. We continue to hope and pray that the Cuban authorities will release him immediately on humanitarian grounds.”
Last month, the Reverend Jesse Jackson also complained to Cuba concerning the situation; saying “granting him freedom on humanitarian grounds could open the door for better relations.”
“I am not making a legal case. I am making a humanitarian plea, a moral appeal…I hope that Raul [Castro] and the governing officials see the advantage of letting him go. Every time a prisoner is let go, it opens the door for increased dialogue and possibilities.”