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Rubio Condemns Possible 20-Year Sentence Against Detained American In Cuba

MIAMI (CBS4)- Florida senator Marco Rubio is condemning the possibility that a U.S. government subcontractor jailed in Havana for 14 months may be given a 20-year sentence.

Rubio issued a statement regarding the news that Cuban prosecutors will seek a 20-year prison sentence for U.S. aid worker Alan Gross.

"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the Cuban regime's decision to seek a 20 year prison sentence for Alan Gross," the statement said. "Mr. Gross is simply a humanitarian who was seeking to help the Jewish community in Cuba access the internet. Only the most oppressive, totalitarian regime would seek to jail someone for trying to expand access to information.

"I call on the Obama administration to halt the planned implementation of their new Cuba policies that liberalize travel and expand allowable remittances to Cuba. This unilateral gift to the Castro brothers by the Obama administration is totally unwarranted, especially in light of Mr. Gross's case.

"President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton must readjust their recently announced concessions in light of this disproportionate action against an innocent American citizen."

Meanwhile, Gross' lawyer praised the announcement Friday that Gross will soon be brought to trial -- even though it said that prosecutors will ask for a 20-year sentence.

Gross' trial date ``will be fixed shortly,'' said a Cuban government note published on the Web page of the Granma newspaper. Prosecutors will seek the long sentence on a charge of acting against ``the independence or territorial integrity of the State.''

The incarceration of Gross without charges since Dec. 3, 2009, had become a stumbling point in the Obama administration's efforts to improve relations with Cuba.

``We deplore the Cuban government's announcement that Cuban prosecutors intend to seek a 20-year sentence against Mr. Gross,'' said State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley. ``He should be home with his family now.''

But there have been hints that the case of Gross, a 61-year-old resident of Potomac, Md., is moving toward a resolution that would not include such a long sentence.

A senior State Department official told journalists in Havana Jan. 13 that Washington was ``cautiously optimistic'' on the Gross case ``because of things we hear,'' according to an Associated Press report.

On the same day, Roberta Jacobson, deputy assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, visited Gross in his cell, on the sidelines of U.S.-Cuba immigration talks that are held every six months.

Then on Friday, Gross' Washington lawyer, Peter J. Kahn, issued a surprisingly affirmative reaction to the Cuban announcement, saying that ``after 14 months in a Cuban prison without charge, the fact that Alan Gross' case is now moving forward is a positive development.

``We respectfully urge the Cuban authorities to free Alan immediately for time served,'' Kahn added, without making any mention of the 20-year sentence.

In a statement, Kahn said the charge mentioned in the Granma report ``demonstrates, once again, that Alan is caught in the middle of a long-standing political dispute between Cuba and the United States.''

The Cuban announcement also said Gross' family, lawyer and U.S. diplomats in Havana will be allowed to attend the trial.

Most reports say Gross went to Havana as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development to deliver a satellite telephone to Cuba's tiny Jewish community so it could communicate with Jewish groups abroad. Others say he delivered U.S. aid to ``marginalized'' groups -- dissidents or other non-government organizations.

Gross also ``holds great affection for the Cuban people and culture, and neither his presence nor actions in Cuba were ever meant to, or in fact did, pose any threat or danger to the Cuban government,'' it added. ``His work in Cuba had nothing to do with politics.''

Cuban ruler Raúl Castro and the head of the National Assembly of People's Power, Ricardo Alarcón, indicated early in the Gross case that he was under investigation for possible spying. But those allegations were never repeated.

(© MMX CBS Television Stations. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)

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