An American citizen jailed in Havana over a year ago has been charged with "acts against the independence and integrity" of Cuba and could face up to 20 years in prison, Cuban state media reported on Friday.
The arrest in December, 2009 of Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor, put relations between the United States and Cuba back in the deep freeze despite initial signs of a thaw under President Barack Obama.
"We deplore the Cuban government's announcement that Cuban prosecutors intend to seek a 20-year sentence for Mr. Gross," said Gloria Berbena, public affairs officer for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana.
Last year, Cuban President Raul Castro said Gross had been distributing illegal satellite communications equipment to dissidents. Other officials referred to him as a spy. Maryland-based Development Alternatives Inc.said Gross was a subcontractor working for them on a USAID project to support "just and democratic governance" in Cuba. His family said he was working with Jewish groups to help them connect to the internet.
The U.S. State Department has repeatedly raised the issue at bilateral talks, insisting that Gross' arrest was an obstacle to any improvement in relations. "His imprisonment for more than a year was contrary to all international human rights obligations and commitments regarding justice and due process," Berbena said on Friday. "He should be home with his family now."
The trial date will be set "shortly" and U.S. consular officials and Gross' family would be permitted to attend the trial, according to an official statement published Friday on the website of Cuban state newspaper Granma.