U.S. government subcontractor Alan P. Gross goes on trial in Havana on Friday in a case that could freeze or thaw Obama administration efforts to improve relations with Cuba.
A conviction of the 61-year-old from Potomac, Md., is all but certain, analysts say.
Prosecutors are asking for a 20-year sentence on charges of “acts against the integrity and independence’’ of the communist-ruled nation.
But while some analysts predict the Cuban government may keep Gross in prison for years in order to make an example out of him, others expect he will be convicted, sentenced and freed after serving a short part of the sentence.
Gross worked for Development Associates International, based in suburban Washington, which was contracted by the U.S. Agency for International Development to run some of the USAID programs to promote democracy and civil society in Cuba.
He was arrested in Havana Dec. 3 2009 after delivering satellite telephones and other sophisticated equipment to Cuba’s 1,500 Jews and other non-government groups so they could have Internet access and communicate with each other and the outside world.
Administration officials have made it clear repeatedly over the past 15 months that any significant efforts on their part to improve relations with Havana must wait until Gross is freed.
Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami, dismissed the Gross trial as “a media show.”
Anti-Castro activist Mauricio Claver-Carone predicted Cuba will use the trial to show that Washington provides material support to dissidents — Havana calls them ‘‘mercenaries’’ — much like the 2003 trials of 75 peaceful government opponents.
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