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Cuba high court upholds US contractor's 15-year sentence

The Supreme Court of Cuba [official website, in Spanish] on Friday upheld [Cubadebate report, in Spanish] a 15-year sentence [JURIST report] for Alan Gross, a US citizen accused of "acts against the independence or integrity of the state." Gross was arrested in 2009 and has served 20 months of his sentence for his work as a Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI) [corporate website] consultant, a business that contracts with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) [official website]. Gross claims that he was aiding the Cuban Jewish community to achieve unfiltered Internet access by distributing various communications devices, while the Cuban government alleges that he was creating internal networks to foment democracy on behalf of the US government. Gross, a 62-year-old Jewish social worker and international development professional from Maryland, was arrested in Havana as he attempted to leave Cuba. Gross maintains that he was operating under good intentions [WP report] and for the Jewish community at-large. No Cuban Jewish groups testified at his trial [JTA report] and disavowed knowledge of Gross, although it is a crime in Cuba to associate with those encouraging democracy. The US State Department [official website] has demanded Gross' unequivocal release [press briefing] and former US president Jimmy Carter visited Cuba [ABC News report] in an attempt to negotiate Gross' freedom.

Until recently, the historically strained relations between the US and Cuba had shown signs of improvement. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama 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 $2,000 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.

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