The 15-year prison sentence given
to an American in Cuba threatens to end a recent thaw of relations between the
two countries while putting a harsh spotlight on a contentious covert
operations program the U.S. has run on the island for years.
In recent years the Obama
administration has offered a kind of rapprochement with Cuba, reversing
tightened travel restrictions instituted by his predecessor George W. Bush and
allowing Cubans to send more money to the island.
But Saturday’s sentencing of Alan
Gross, a contractor from U.S. Agency for International Development, throws
recent progress into question, some experts said.
Mr. Gross had been distributing
Internet communications equipment on the island under a democracy-promotion
program run by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
That was illegal, according to a
Cuban court, which handed down a harsh 15-year sentence for aiming “to
destroy the Revolution.”
The ruling—made over a demand by
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to immediately release Mr. Gross—will
decrease chances the U.S. will push more conciliatory measures with Cuba in the
near future, experts said.
For decades, the U.S. has tried to
pry Cuba open to democracy through its economic embargo, aid to Cuban
dissidents and even a 1961 invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs.
But the government has countered
the measures with heightened security and anti-American rhetoric.
Recognizing the failures of past
presidents to change Cuba, President Barack Obama even suggested during his
campaign that he was open to an unprecedented meeting Cuban President Raul
The meeting never happened.