Cuba releases U.S. prisoner Alan Gross after 5 years

Photo shows Alan Gross with his wife, Judy, supposedly still in Cuba.
Photo shows Alan Gross with his wife, Judy, supposedly still in Cuba. via Twitter

Cuba released USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who had served five years in a Cuba jail, Wednesday -- on the first day of Hannukah.

Gross was working on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract and was on his fifth trip to Cuba when he was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009 for secretly bringing satellite communications equipment into Cuba as part of the agency's pro-democracy programs.

He had improved Internet communications for Cuba's Jewish community, who were not aware he was working for the U.S. government, and hoped to spread the program to other target groups. Members of the Jewish community have rallied for Gross' release.

Gross, who is in ill health and has lost significant weight, had vowed on his birthday last spring that one way or another it would be the last year he would spend in a Cuba jail. He was serving a 15-year sentence

The continued imprisonment of Gross' has been a stumbling block in any improvement in relations between Havana and Washington and the United States has long called for his humanitarian release.

Cuba, on the other hand, has contended that the USAID programs were aimed at subverting its government and has always been interested in tying his release to the fate of the Cuban Five, five Cuban spies who have or are serving lengthy prison terms in the United States on charges related to the Feb. 24, 1996 shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes by Cuba. Four exile pilots died.

The United States has contended that Gross was not a spy and it would not be an equivalent swap. There are, however, several precedent for non-equivalent prisoner swaps between the two countries as separate, humanitarian gestures.

Also a question mark is whether Gross' release will auger a new relationship between Cuba and the United States. President Barack Obama plans to deliver a statement on Cuba from the Cabinet room at noon Wednesday.

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