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Commentary: Rejected appeal of Alan Gross requires stiff U.S. response

The decision by a Cuban court to reject the appeal of American citizen Alan P. Gross sends an unequivocal message that Cuba’s hardliners remain unmoved by humanitarian concerns or Washington’s efforts to establish a better relationship with the regime. This regime isn’t interested in a better relationship.

The 62-year-old U.S. Agency of International Development subcontractor was thrown in jail following his arrest in December of 2009 for the “crime” of bringing equipment into the country to help the impoverished members of its tiny Jewish community connect with the Internet. Only in Cuba would this otherwise benign act be characterized as subversion and the hapless individual caught in a trap labeled a spy.

He was later sentenced to 15 years in prison. Cuba’s highest court upheld that sentence on Friday. Ostensibly, it’s a judicial decision, but have no doubt — Fidel and Raúl Castro dictated this outcome. The decision was rightly condemned by lawmakers in Washington from both parties and leaders of the Jewish community in this country for its harshness and unfairness.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called it an “unjust and unwarranted imprisonment” and demanded his unconditional release. “This administration must realize that two bit tyrants only understand hardball tactics and they are not at all moved by the diplomatic niceties that Obama has engaged in.” On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-New York, labeled the decision “simply unjustified and inhumane.”

Sen. Marco Rubio called it “a deplorable human rights violation.” He’s right. The sentence is vastly out of proportion for what anywhere else would constitute a mere customs violation.

Calls for leniency for Mr. Gross for humanitarian reasons are well grounded. He’s been confined for 19 months already, and, according to his wife, has undergone severe weight loss in prison. He suffers from a variety of ailments, including diabetes. His daughter has cancer and his mother is also said to be in poor health.

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