HAVANA (Reuters) - American contractor Alan Gross was found guilty on Saturday of working to undermine Cuba's communist government, Cuban television said, and now faces up to 20 years behind bars in the latest blow to U.S.-Cuba relations.

A panel of judges reached the widely expected verdict after hearing two days of testimony and now must decide his sentence, which would take some days, according to the television report.

Prosecutors sought a 20-year sentence for Gross, who has been jailed since his arrest in Havana on December 3, 2009. He can appeal the decision to Cuba's highest court.

Cuba says Alan Gross, 61, distributed sophisticated satellite communications equipment for Internet access under a U.S. program that is outlawed and considered subversive by the Cuban government.

The United States, at loggerheads with Cuba for more than five decades, said he was providing Internet access to Jewish groups but committed no crime.

The case halted a brief period of improvement in U.S.-Cuba relations and could do lasting damage if Gross is locked away for a long time.

Some observers believe a political solution will be reached that will allow Gross to go free soon.

Cuba was expected to use the trial to put a spotlight on U.S. activities on the island, but the foreign press was not allowed into the court.

Cuban leaders view his work as part of long-standing U.S. efforts to sabotage the communist government put in place after Fidel Castro rose to power in a 1959 revolution.

(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes, Marc Frank and Esteban Israel in Havana; Editing by Jackie Frank)

Source: Reuters US Online Report Domestic News

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