Cuba Frees American Contractor Alan Gross; Obama Unveils Cuba Policy

 

Alan Gross, the American contractor who spent five years in Cuban detention, has been freed and is on his way back to the United States.

Updated at 12:10 p.m. ET

President Obama announced today the most significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in more than 50 years, paving the way for the normalization of relations and the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.

"These 50 years have shown, isolation has not worked," Obama said. "It's time for a new approach."

He said as these changes unfold, he will talk to Congress about lifting the embargo on Cuba. The U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, shortly after Fidel Castro and his communist rebels ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Cuban President Raul Castro, in Havana, made similar remarks at noon in Havana, and called an end to the embargo.

A senior administration official said Gross was released on humanitarian grounds in exchange for three Cubans jailed in the U.S.

oday's developments come hours after news emerged that Alan Gross, the American contractor who spent five years in a Cuban jail, had been freed on humanitarian grounds. Gross has since arrived in the U.S.

The U.S. will start talks with Cuba on normalizing relations and on opening an embassy in Havana, senior administration officials said. The move would mark the resumption of diplomatic relations that were severed in 1961, shortly after Fidel Castro came to power.

U.S. officials also said three Cuban spies, part of the so-called Cuban Five spy ring, will be released in exchange for an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset jailed in Cuba for 20 years. That individual, U.S. officials said, identified the Cuban Five, Cuban intelligence agents in the U.S. who were caught in the 1990s. The individual also identified former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes and former State Department official Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn, as Cuban agents.

President Obama, in Washington, and Cuban President Raul Castro, in Havana, are scheduled at noon to make announcements about the exchange as well as relations between the two countries.

The Associated Press is quoting unnamed U.S. officials as saying the two countries will start talks to "normalize full diplomatic relations." The U.S. has not had diplomatic relations with the Community Party-run country since 1961, shortly after Fidel Castro and his rebels ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The AP reported that the U.S. was looking to open an embassy in Havana. The news agency quoted Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as saying the agreement between the two countries includes the normalization of banking and trade ties. NPR has not independently confirmed these details.

As we previously reported, Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, had been working on a program to improve Internet access for Jewish Cubans. During several trips to Cuba he had covertly distributed laptops. A Cuban court found him guilty of crimes against the state in 2011, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

In December 2013, Peter Wallsten of The Washington Post told NPR Gross was being detained in a 10-foot by 12-foot room, with two other prisoners.

This month, Gross' wife, Judy, said her husband had lost more than 100 pounds during his detention. "He can barely walk due to chronic pain, and he has lost five teeth and much of the sight in his right eye," she said in a statement.

In an interview in June with NPR, Judy Gross said her husband was "despondent and very hopeless." She warned that he had said he would "take drastic measures if he's not out very shortly."

Gross had staged a nine-day hunger strike earlier this year.

Story source: NPR