An American contractor accused of crimes against the Cuban state was sentenced to 15 years
in prison in Cuba Saturday, government-run television reported.
In a decision likely to set back Havana-Washington relations, a five-judge panel concluded that the contractor, Alan Phillip Gross, was involved in what the Cuban government described as a Washington-backed "subversive project" to "topple the Revolution," Reuters reported.
Gross, a 61-year-old resident of Potomac,
Md., a suburb of Washington, was convicted of "acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the state'' for working to set up illegal Internet networks for Cuban dissidents using "sophisticated" communications technology.
Prosecutors had asked for a 20-year sentence for Gross, who has been detained in the maximum-security jail Villa Marista in Havana since his arrest on Dec. 3, 2009. He can appeal his case to Cuba's highest court, Reuters said.
"Today's sentencing adds another injustice to Alan Gross's ordeal," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. "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."
Gross had been sent to the island
under a "democracy-building" program of the United States Agency for International Development that Cuba says is meant to destabilize or overthrow the government.
His detention strained relations between Cuba and the U.S., coming at a time when President Obama had promised to open communications with the Cuban people. The Obama administration has since loosened some travel restrictions to Cuba and lifted limits on remittances for people in the U.S. with relatives on the island.
Washington has repeatedly demanded Gross' release, saying that he was on the island to set up Internet access for Cuba's Jewish community, which numbers 1,200. But Jewish community leaders kept their distance from Gross since his arrest.
Havana prosecutors said Gross was "targeting young people, universities, religious groups, women's groups, racial groups and cultural types," Reuters said.
Gross was in Cuba on a tourist visa and was preparing to board a plane at José Martí International Airport to return to America when he was nabbed.
His wife, Judy Gross, who attended his two-day trial last week in Havana, has asked for his freedom on humanitarian grounds. He is ailing, she says, and their 26-year-old daughter and Gross' 88-year-old mother both have cancer.
Some political analysts have said that a political solution will be reached to allow Gross to go free soon. Others disagree, saying that Cuba has shown little desire to improve relations with the United States, which has imposed a trade embargo on the island since 1962.