The Trial of Alan Gross Begins / Laritza Diversent

Starting today, Friday March 4, is the trail of Alan Gross, an American subcontractor accused of the crime “Acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the Cuban state.” The prosecutor is requesting a sentence of 20 years in prison.

Gross, 61, has been detained without charges since December 3, 2009, for distributing satellite links in Cuba to create clandestine WiFi access points. According to a member of Cuban State Security, in a video leaked to the web, these are the methods the U.S. funds and uses to promote a cyber insurrection in Cuba.

The fear on the part of the authorities with respect to the use of the Internet and social networks like Twitter and Facebook, grew after Egypt and other Arab countries saw protests and demonstrations demanding the resignation of their governments sparked by the use of these methods.

A literal interpretation of the actions undertaken by the American contractor, however, suggest the application of Article 11 of Law 88/99, “Protection of the national and economic independence of Cuba,” popularly known as “the gag law,” that the government hasn’t used since April 2003, but which remains current in the legal system.

This article provides for a sanction of three to eight years in prison, and a fine of one thousand to fifteen thousand pesos, for each person who directly distributes financial, material or other support coming from the government or private entities in the United States, for the realization of acts sanctioned by the law.

To accumulate reproduce, spread or introduce in the country materials of a subversive nature; to collaborate, by any method, with radio or television broadcasts, newspapers, magazines or other foreign methods of diffusion, excepting accredited reports, constitute actions penalized by Law 88, which does violence to the freedom of expression of Cuban citizens.

The Cuban authorities, however, prefer to apply Article 91 of the Penal code that sanctions with prison terms of ten to twenty years, or pain of death, anyone who in the interest of a foreign state, undertakes an act with the object of taking detrimental action against the independence of the Cuban state or the integrity of its territory.

It is illogical to think that satellite communications equipment could undermine the independence of territorial integrity of the island. The question is, why did the Prosecutor decide to apply a rule that describes no action and that does not most closely match the facts.

In its text, Law 88 warns that “given the special character… its application would be preferred to any other penal legislation preceding it. However, its utilization remains at the discretion of the government.”

The reason could be in the political overtones and international interest generation by the case. The jailing of Alan Gross has become an obstacle to the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States of America. It seems the tension will continue.

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March 4 2011