The trial of a U.S. government contractor accused of trying to subvert Cuba's government ended on Saturday and a verdict was expected to come down at any time in the next few days.
The Cuban government said at the close of the two-day trial that the contractor, Alan Phillip Gross, accepted some responsibility
during the trial but had said he had been "used" and blamed the State Department-linked company that sent him to the island.
Gross, a 61-year-old Maryland native, faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty. He has been detained for more than a year at Havana's maximum-security Villa Marista jail after being accused of distributing sophisticated satellite equipment
to Jewish groups on the island. But Jewish leaders in Cuba distanced themselves from Gross.
Gross had been sent to the island under a "democracy building" program of the United States Agency for International Development that Cuban officials say is intended to destabilize or overthrow the Cuban government.
His arrest in December 2009 has set back relations between Havana and Washington and came at a time when President Barack Obama had promised to open communications with the Cuban people. The administration has since loosened some travel restrictions to Cuba and lifted limits on remittances for people with relatives on the island.
The Cuban government statement issued Saturday night said that during his trial, Gross
"acknowledged that he had been used and duped"
by his company, Development Alternatives Inc., which had a contract with the State Department, under which USAID operates.
The trial in a courtroom in a Havana suburb began Friday with a five-judge panel hearing testimony and reviewing evidence.
Gross "presented a vigorous defense"
during the first day of testimony, his lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, said afterward. He said that his client was suffering "extreme mental stress" and repeated the Gross family call for his freedom.
Most observers expect Gross to be released on humanitarian grounds. He has lost some 90 pounds since he was detained, according to his wife, Judy Gross, and his daughter had a double mastectomy late last year. Cancer has been diagnosed in his 88-year-old mother.
Gross, a technology expert and federal vendor
whose specialty is bringing satellite signals to remote locations, is Jewish and lives in the Washington suburb of Potomac, Maryland.
A frequent visitor to Cuba under his subcontract, Gross entered the island on a tourist visa.
But he was actually there as an "independent business and economic development consultant" for the government contractor under a controversial program begun under President George W. Bush to effect political change – or in diplomatic parlance, regime change – in Cuba.
Though his bosses denied that Gross was an intelligence agent, there was secrecy surrounding his mission, according to an investigative piece by Politics Daily's Bonnie Goldstein
. At the time of his arrest, Development Alternatives Inc. issued a statement: "The detained individual was an employee of a program subcontractor, which was implementing a competitively issued subcontract to assist Cuban civil society organizations."
Gross was arrested at Havana's José Martí International Airport as he tried to board a plane to leave the country on Dec. 3, 2009. He has been in prison since then.
On Friday, Gross was driven in a black car with Cuban security agents for his appearance in court. American consular officials also attended.
Judy Gross, her hair in a coiffed bob and wearing a gray outfit and sunglasses, was at the proceedings accompanied by her American lawyer, Peter Kahn. She did not speak to reporters, but she has previously pleaded for his release on humanitarian grounds.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Gross has been "unjustly jailed for far too long. We call on the government of Cuba to release him and unconditionally allow him to leave Cuba and return to his family to bring an end to their long ordeal."