A court in Cuba on Saturday sentenced [Cubadebate report, in Spanish] US contractor Alan Gross to 15 years in prison for attempting to undermine the communist government of Cuba, according to a state-run website. US National Security spokesman Tommy Vietor immediately denounced the ruling [Washington Post report], calling the 15-year sentence an "injustice." Gross was arrested at the Havana Airport in 2009 for bringing computer equipment into Cuba. He was working as a member of a Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI) [official website] program distributing computer and satellite phone equipment to Jewish residents in Cuba in an effort to give them Internet access. The sentence has increased the political strain between US and Cuban relations. Earlier this week Secretary of State Hilary Clinton [official profile] called for Gross's immediate release [AP report] and several US officials have stated that relations will not improve until Gross is released. DAI President and Chief Executive Officer James Boomgard urged the Cuban government to immediately release Gross [press release]:
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. In light of the critical medical situation confronting Alan and his family, we urge the Cuban government to release him immediately on humanitarian grounds and quickly return him to his family.The US hopes that Gross will soon be released on humanitarian grounds.
Until recently, the historically strained relations between the US and Cuba had shown signs of improvement. Earlier this year, President Obama [official profile] ordered [JURIST report] the Departments of State, Treasury, and Homeland Security [official websites] to take steps to ease restrictions on travel and remittances [press release] to Cuba. The new regulations, to be promulgated as modifications of the Cuban Assets Control [31 CFR § 515.101 et seq.] and Customs and Border Protection [19 CFR § 122.151 et seq.] regulations, will allow greater travel from the US to Cuba for religious and educational purposes, the transfer of up to $2000 per year to non-family members in Cuba so long as they are not senior government or Communist Party leaders, and will allow all US international airports to service charter flights between the two countries.