WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Cuba's decision to seek a jail term for a U.S. government contractor arrested in 2009 could hurt efforts to improve relations with the country, officials said.
Cuban prosecutors Friday said they would seek a 20-year jail term for Alan Gross for providing satellite communication gear to its Jewish community, The Washington Post reported.
Gross has been held in a Cuban jail since December 2009. Cuban prosecutors have said they will charge him with "acts against the integrity and independence."
Gross, 61, of Maryland, was arrested while helping Cuban Jews communicate with Jews in other parts of the world as part of a secretive plan sprouted during George W. Bush's administration in conjunction with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"The charges announced today by the Cuban authorities against him demonstrate, once again that Alan is caught in the middle of a long-standing political dispute between Cuba and the United States," Gross family lawyer Peter J. Kahn said Friday. "Alan and his family should not have to pay the price for more than 50 years of turmoil in U.S.-Cuba relations."
An Obama administration official called the announcement troubling.
It would be "very difficult to move to greater engagement in the context where they have continued to hold Alan Gross," said Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.