Former USAID contractor Alan Gross has set foot on US soil after being released from prison in Havana. He had served five years of a 15-year sentence.
Alan Gross addressed reporters after his arrival in the US on Wednesday. In a televised speech he thanked US President Barack Obama, who on Wednesday announced a normalization of US-Cuba relations, along with lawmakers who secured his freedom.
"What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country," Gross said in Washington after his release from prison in Havana after serving five of the 15 years to which he was sentenced.
Lawmakers and the president welcomed his return to the US. John Kerry tweeted after the speech:
Imprisoned for clandestine activities
Alan Gross, 65, (shown in picture above from 2012) was arrested in December 2009 while working as a subcontractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID) setting up Internet cables. Cuba views the activities as illegal, as the Internet equipment and service had been meant for Cuban groups promoting political change, which the government in Havana considers subversive.
He was put on trial and received a sentence of 15 years in prison. He has served five years.
Gross was said to be in poor health, having lost over 100 pounds during his five years of incarceration, with severe hip pain and loss of sight in one eye.
Last month, he was visited by two US senators. After the visit, Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democrat Tom Udall of New Mexico told reporters on November 11 they were confident they were closer to Gross' release from prison. They did not give any indication that an agreement between the US and Cuba had been reached.
The US had repeatedly called on Havana to release Gross, but Cuba wanted to see the release of three Cuban nationals currently in US prisons for espionage as well.
Re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba
Just before Gross spoke, Obama in a televised speech announced a normalization of diplomatic ties with Cuba. He said the embargo against Cuba would be lifted and that a US embassy would be set up in Havana and a Cuban one in Washington, without naming a timeframe. Obama said there would be cooperation between Washington and Havana on jointly tackling issues such as drug trafficking. He said the easing of sanctions will allow trade between the two countries. "Increased commerce is good for Americans and for Cuba," the president said.
With regard to development and civil liberties in Cuba, Obama said, "50 years of isolation has shown that this approach does not work."
"I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over 5 decades and expect a different result."
Obama also called on Cuba to lift restrictions on its population of 11 million. He said, today the US wants to be a part of making the lives of Cubans "more free, more prosperous."
Castro speaks in Havana
President Castro addressed people at the same time in Havana, confirming the normalization in relations and the re-establishment of diplomatic ties.
"We have agreed to reestablish diplomatic ties after more than half a century," he said in a nationally broadcast address.
"We recognize having profound differences … we reaffirm our willingness to dialogue in all of these areas," the Cuban president added.
Castro also spoke of the release of other prisoners.
Unexpected events welcomed
Human rights group Amnesty International welcomed Wednesday's unexpected revelations, tweeting:
sb/es (AP, AFP)