Alan Gross goes on trial in Cuba today, where my guess is that he will get a long sentence and my hope is that he will not have to serve it.
If you’re rooting for Mr. Gross, hope that the Cuban government’s interest is in opposing USAID’s pseudo-covert operations, not in holding an apparently hapless businessman who participated in them and has already served 14 months and suffered much anguish.
AP reports that the trial is under way with Mr. Gross’ wife, his American attorney, and U.S. consular officials in attendance and reporters kept outside.
American Jewish organizations that appealed on his behalf say that if his work “had any political implications this was something he did not, or could not, appreciate.” That would seem to be an indictment of USAID and his employer, the contractor DAI, for failing to warn him, not to mention of Mr. Gross himself for not noticing that the program under which he worked and the law that funds it are as political as can be.
A commenter asked: Under what law are Cuban prosecutors charging Mr. Gross? I don’t know the answer to that, and I don’t know that it has been published. My impression is that the Cuban press announcement’s reference to “Actions Against the Independence and Territorial Integrity of the State” is a reference to a category of laws, not to a specific charge. I’m told that a prosecutor’s charging document will contain a list of alleged acts with each one linked to laws that the defendant is alleged to have violated. (See update below.)
Several readers have commented on the MININT video’s assertion that the equipment that Alan Gross was installing in Cuba had a one-kilometer radius. The equipment, called “BGANS” (broadband global area network), provides a satellite link to the Internet with a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Some readers have used the equipment in their work and state quite clearly that the MININT video exaggerates the BGANS capabilities. It does indeed have Wi-Fi, they say, but the connection speed slows considerably each time an additional user connects. And its range is like the Wi-Fi in your house, no more. And the dish has to be outside. So the idea that a BGANS is going to light up a Havana neighborhood with free Internet is outlandish, they assert.
One reader writes that airtime costs $10-$16 per minute, depending on the connection speed you choose. Someday it will be interesting to know how many Internet connections Mr. Gross set up before they were presumably closed down by state security. With his contract cost ($585,000, according to U.S. officials) plus the overhead costs of his employer, plus airtime charges, we’re talking about the most expensive Internet connections in history.
Update: From a reader: “The case is based on Article 91 of the penal code, which is called ‘Acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state.’ Thus it appears in the February 4 announcement. That crime carries a penalty of ten to twenty years in jail or death and is under the chapter ‘Crimes against the external security of the state.’ The penal code says that this crime is commited by whoever ‘in the interest of a foreign state commits an act detrimental to the independence of the Cuban state or the integrity of its territory.’ This was one of the charges against the dissidents tried in 2003. The other was Law 88.”