A lawyer for a U.S. government subcontractor jailed in Havana for 14 months praised an announcement Friday that he will soon be brought to trial -- even though it said that prosecutors will ask for a 20-year sentence.
Alan 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.
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