An American government contractor whose family and government contend is being unjustly held behind bars in Cuba goes on trial Friday.
His defense attorney: Nuris Piñero Sierra, who also represents the families of five Cuban intelligence agents who Havana says are being unjustly held in U.S. federal prisons.
“What a coincidence!” said Wilfredo Vallín, president of an opposition lawyers association in Cuba.
The selection of Piñero to defend American Alan Gross has raised eyebrows among Cuba-watchers, who suspect the veteran attorney was chosen to strategically place her where she could play a key role as an intermediary brokering a prisoner swap for her other clients. Experts in the Cuban legal field say the world-traveled lawyer will nonetheless do her best to defend the 61-year-old ailing American — who stands little chance of getting a fair trial on charges of acting against the state.
“Having her as Mr. Gross’ defense attorney is significant,” Vallín said. “She will defend him without limit — guaranteed. They have to at least give the appearance of giving him a fair hearing.”
Gross was a subcontractor for Maryland-based Development Alternatives Inc., which had a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to promote democracy and communications on the island. The U.S. government has said Gross had gone to Cuba to help bring the Internet to Jewish organizations.
He was allegedly caught with satellite phones, and Jewish community leaders in Havana told The Associated Press they never heard of him. Another leader told CBS News this week that he met Gross a few times, but already had web access and didn’t need his help.
Prosecutors recently announced they are seeking a 20-year sentence against Gross for crimes against the integrity of the state. His wife, Judy Gross, hired lawyers in both Washington and Havana.
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