By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 5 — Alan Gross, a Maryland resident allegedly caught in Cuba distributing illegal electronic equipment, has finally been charged 13 months after his initial arrest. The Cuban prosecutor announced that a trial date for the 60-year-old “gadget geek”, as his wife called him, is forthcoming.
The prosecution is asking for a 20-year prison sentence. Gross is charged with “Actions Against the Independence and Territorial Integrity of the State.”
Gross traveled to Cuba working for a US-AID funded program carried out by Development Alternatives, a company that works under contract for Washington in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. The program’s goal is to “empower civil society” in Cuba.
Cuba and the United States do not have diplomatic relations and Washington has maintained an economic blockade on the island for a half century. It also forbids ordinary US citizens to visit Cuba, with some exceptions made for all Cuban-Americans, journalists and most recently for some academics and cultural exchanges.
The Cuban authorities informed the US government about the current situation involving Gross and noted that its “consular representatives, Mr. Gross’ relatives and his family lawyers will be allowed to attend the trial.”
In December 2010, Representatives of the Jewish community in Cuba denied that Gross had collaborated with them before his detention in December 2009. The relationship with the Jewish community has been one of the arguments used to justify his presence on the island.
Later that same month, Cuba parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon publically accused Gross of “violating Cuban laws and its national sovereignty.” Alarcon further noted that such a crime committed in the United States is considered “very, very punishable.”
The US State Department claims it is a top priority to achieve the release of Gross.
Meanwhile, the Caribbean country has been trying to obtain the release of five of its nationals known as the Cuban Five, in jail for over 12 years in the US for conspiracy to spy and other charges that Cuba considers totally false.
Havana says the Cuban Five –considered heroes back home- only infiltrated terrorist groups that successive US administrations allow to operate out of Florida to plot attacks on the island.
The US State Department has repeatedly said it is not interested in a prisoner swap to end the standoff. Cuban President Raul Castro has not ruled out such an exchange.