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Cuban-American relations

A Gross miscarriage of justice?
Mar 15th 2011, 10:12 by D.A. | MIAMI

BARACK OBAMA has tried to encourage 's government to liberalise by
promoting “people-to-people” contact with the . Since
becoming president, he has relaxed most limits on and
transfers to the island. Cuba's ruling Castro brothers have indeed shown
increasing flexibility of late, releasing dozens of
and legalising some private economic activity. Nonetheless, they do not
seem interested in reciprocating America's gestures of rapprochement. On
March 12th Cuba sentenced Alan Gross, an employee of a company
contracted by the United States Agency for International Development
(USAID), to 15 years in jail for crimes against the state.

Mr Gross, who worked for a firm called Development Alternatives Inc.,
was participating in a programme to improve internet access for Cuba's
Jews, which the government deemed “subversive”. His job allegedly
involved distributing internet-connectivity devices, which are strictly
controlled by the state, and possibly satellite equipment as well, which
is banned. Foreigners arriving in the country are specifically asked to
declare to customs officials whether they are carrying any satellite
devices, and any that are found are swiftly confiscated.

American officials have called the sentence “appalling” and called for
Mr Gross to be released. Although Cuba says that during his trial, Mr
Gross “recognised having been used and manipulated” by his company and
the United States government, they note that he can still appeal the
sentence, and could possibly receive a pardon on humanitarian grounds.
According to his wife, Mr Gross has lost more than 40 kilograms (90
pounds) since his arrest, and his mother and daughter are both suffering
from cancer.

The Cuban government may well decide that it has milked the Gross case
sufficiently to allow him to go home, after an appropriate interval. “I
don't think [the verdict] is necessarily the final word,” says Philip
Peters, a Cuba analyst at the Washington-based Lexington Institute. “I
don't see it in Cuba's interest to hold him for a long period of time.”
However, the Castros might feel tempted to hang onto Mr Gross and use
him as a bargaining chip to gain the release of five Cubans who were
convicted in the United States of espionage in 2005. In that case, it
might be quite some time before Mr Gross is allowed to go home.


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