Alan Gross, a 65-year-old American contractor, was released Wednesday by the Communist regime in Cuba after five years of imprisonment, the result of backchannel negotiations between the two governments that will also see the release of three Cuban spies.
The Associated Press reported
that Gross was working for a subcontractor of U.S. Agency for International Development in 2009 when he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. As a contractor, he was installing Internet access for the island's small Jewish community that bypassed Cuba's restrictions and monitoring.
The Cuban government, long suspicious of the U.S. agency, said the unfettered Internet access was an American plot to usher in a democratic revolution.
Gross' health suffered in prison, where he lost 100 pounds, developed hip problems, and lost almost all vision in his right eye. This year, after the AP revealed that USAID tried to create a "Cuban Twitter" in the country, Gross went on a hunger strike. He was allowed weekly phone calls with family, and his mother eventually convinced him to start eating again.
President Barack Obama confirmed last week that his administration has "been in conversations about how we can get Alan Gross home for quite some time."
"We continue to be concerned about him. We think that he shouldn’t have been held in the first place," Obama told Fusion's Jorge Ramos
. "With respect to Cuba generally, I’ve made very clear that the policies that we have in making remittances easier for Cuban families, and making it easier for families to travel, have been helpful to people inside Cuba . . . But the Cuban government still needs to make significant changes."
Three Cuban citizens convicted of spying on anti-Castro groups in Miami — but not the U.S. government — will be released from a federal prison in North Carolina as part of the prisoner swap.
The Obama administration said that the swap is just the first of many steps it hopes to take to improve relations with Cuba. It is reconsidering travel restrictions, as well as the trade embargo instituted under President Kennedy.
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