HAVANA - Cuba’s highest court upheld a US government subcontractor’s 15-year prison sentence for crimes against the state yesterday, ending the legal side of a case that has chilled already-icy relations between Washington and Havana.
The ruling means Alan Gross, 62, a Maryland native who has been behind bars for more than a year and a half, has no further judicial recourse to appeal his sentence. It leaves him, his family, and US officials hoping instead for a release on humanitarian grounds.
Gross, who has been behind bars since his arrest in December 2009, was found guilty in March of bringing satellite and other communication equipment into the country illegally. He has acknowledged he was working on a USAID-funded democracy program but said he meant no harm to the government and was trying to help the island’s tiny Jewish community.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court “issued a definitive resolution denying the appeal filed by the US citizen Alan Phillip Gross and his lawyer against the sentence,’’ said a note published on state-run website Cubadebate.
During the initial trial, the court found, “it was demonstrated that [Gross] illegally introduced telecommunications equipment in Cuba to create internal networks as part of a program of the government of the United States that aimed to promote destabilizing actions in the country and subvert Cuban constitutional order.’’
Prominent Jewish leaders in Havana have denied working with Gross.
“While we are not surprised, we are extremely disappointed with today’s ruling, which marks the end of Alan’s legal process in Cuba,’’ Gross’s US lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, said in a statement. “The family is heartbroken by today’s decision but remains hopeful that there continues to be room for a diplomatic resolution of this matter.’’
The Gross case has been a stumbling block to any warmer relations between the Cold War rivals. US officials say ties cannot improve while he remains in prison. A spokeswoman at the US Interest Section in Havana said diplomats were still considering the ruling and were not ready to comment.
Gross’s arrest also caused soul-searching in Washington over the democracy programs, which are passionately supported by several Cuban-American politicians.