Cuba sentences US contractor amid tense ties

Cuba sentenced a US contractor to 15 years in prison for covertly distributing laptops and cellular phones on the island -- a verdict certain to sour the communist-ruled nation's long-strained ties with the United States.

Washington swiftly decried the jailing of American Alan Gross as "another injustice" and called for his immediate release.

Cuba's Popular Provincial Tribunal found Gross responsible for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity" of the country, according to a statement read on state-run television.

Gross, 61, was working under contract for the US State Department when he was arrested in late 2009 for distributing the electronic devices to members of the communist-run island's small Jewish community.

"Today's sentencing adds another injustice to Alan Gross's ordeal," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor in Washington.

"He has already spent too many days in detention and should not spend one more. We urge the immediate release of Mr Gross so that he can return home to his wife and family," Vietor said.

In their ruling, the Tribunal considered information showing "direct participation of the US contractor in a subversive project by the United States government to try to destroy the revolution."

The Cuban statement also said that during the trial, the defendant "acknowledged that he had been used and manipulated" by the US Agency for International Development, which financed Gross's company, the statement read.

Gross, who can appeal the sentence, was originally accused of targeting universities, religious centers and ethnic groups to create "underground communications networks designed to foment provocations against the revolution."

His family was devastated, Gross's attorney said.

"At this difficult time for Alan and his family, we again call on the Cuban government to release him immediately on humanitarian grounds," said lawyer Peter Kahn.

The two-day, closed-door trial in Havana concluded March 5.

The case has chilled a brief warming in US-Cuban relations that followed President Barack Obama's taking office.

Cuba and the United States have not had full diplomatic relations since 1961.

In the trial, Gross was defended by attorney Nuris Pinero, who also represents five Cubans imprisoned in the United States for the past 12 years on espionage charges.

Cuba recognizes that the five were its agents, but said they were not spying on the United States, rather on anti-Castro groups in Miami planning violent attacks against Cuba.

Washington has rejected trading the jailed Cubans for Gross.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Cuba to release the contractor on Thursday.

"We deplore the injustice toward Alan Gross. We want him home," Clinton said in her first remarks on the case since the trial concluded.

"He needs to be home with his family immediately," Clinton told the House Appropriations Committee.

James Boomgard, head of the company employing Gross, said: "We are profoundly disappointed by today's verdict and sentence. Alan Gross has been accused of doing nothing more than giving peaceful people access to the internet, and for this he has already been unjustly imprisoned for more than a year without the benefit of due process and in violation of international law.

Gross was arrested in Havana in December 2009. President Raul Castro said he was acting as an "agent" of Washington distributing sophisticated communications equipment to opponents of the Cuban regime.

Cuban state media have aired a video, purported to have been leaked, in which a State Security expert is heard saying that Gross was building a "technological platform" for "network of mercenaries" including award-winning opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez. She has received awards from organizations including the US State Department.

Cuban-American US lawmakers also slammed the sentencing, with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida congresswoman who chairs the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, calling it "a shameless act by a desperate regime."

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • No apology, but Noy seeks understanding
    No apology, but Noy seeks understanding

    There was no apology, but President Aquino yesterday expressed regret, took “full responsibility” and appealed to the nation for “deepest understanding” for the Jan. 25 Mamasapano raid in which dozens died, including 44 police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos. “To every Filipino who has felt failure or has been hurt because of the events related to this operation, it is with abiding humility that I ask for your deepest understanding,” Aquino said in a speech before the 246 new graduates of …

  • MVP on endorsement: Thanks, I’m no politician
    MVP on endorsement: Thanks, I’m no politician

    Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan is grateful for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s praise and presidential endorsement, but says he is not a politician. In an interview on the sidelines of the launch of the search for The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines 2015 Wednesday night, Pangilinan dismissed the idea of running for president in the 2016 elections. “I’m not a politician, I’m just an ordinary business person,” he added. Santiago endorsed Pangilinan as a presidential candidate …

  • No Lenten break in operations vs lawless groups – AFP
    No Lenten break in operations vs lawless groups – AFP

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not suspending its offensive against the Abu Sayyaf, New People’s Army (NPA) and other lawless groups during the Holy Week, an official said yesterday. Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office chief, said the AFP leadership is leaving it up to area and division commanders whether to raise the alert status in preparation for the Holy Week. Those deployed in areas where there are ongoing law enforcement operations against terrorist groups …

  • Probe harassment vs human rights lawyer, CA orders AFP
    Probe harassment vs human rights lawyer, CA orders AFP

    The Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to investigate a human rights lawyer’s claim of harassment, including surveillance, by several military officers. In a 22-page decision, the former Special Sixth Division of the appellate court granted the petition for writ of amparo and habeas data of Maria Catherine Dannug-Salucon. The CA ordered the AFP to identify the officers behind the surveillance and file charges against them. The CA ruling said …

  • Noy vows to dismantle bata-bata system in PNP
    Noy vows to dismantle bata-bata system in PNP

    President Aquino vowed yesterday to dismantle the culture of factionalism or the bata-bata system within the Philippine National Police as he continued the search for the next PNP chief. Speaking at the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) commencement exercises here, the President said the country needed solidarity among leaders and members of the police force so that the policemen would be effective protectors of Filipinos. “Our challenge to the next chief of our national police force: …

  • Envoy to expats: Retire, invest in Phl
    Envoy to expats: Retire, invest in Phl

    Retire and invest in real estate in the Philippines, especially now that the country has made it to the top 10 retirement destinations in the world. This is the message being spread by the Philippine embassy in Washington, with Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. leading the refrain in meetings with various Filipino-American communities in the US. In his talks, Cuisia said that an affordable cost of living as well as warm climate and people are just some of the things that make the Philippines a top …

  • PNPA spotlight falls on Ampatuan grandson
    PNPA spotlight falls on Ampatuan grandson

    The stigma of being a namesake of the principal suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre did not prevent Cadet First Class Andal Ampatuan III from entering and graduating from the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA). Ampatuan III, now with a rank of police inspector, is a grandson of former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. The younger Ampatuan was among the 246 graduates of the PNPA “Lakandula” Class of 2015. Ampatuan III’s mother is Bai Rebecca Ampatuan, a daughter of the …

  • Southwest transport terminal construction start still in limbo

    The construction of the country’s first intermodal transport facility is in limbo as both the government and the winning private concessionaire are waiting on each other before finally pushing through with the contract signing. Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said the ongoing titling of the project site for the R2.5-billion Integrated Transport System (ITS) Southwest Terminal should not delay the concession agreement signing, which has been indefinitely postponed since February …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options