Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Alan Gross’ release, improved U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties to impact Cuban Jews

    Alan Gross’ release, improved U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties to impact Cuban Jews
    Cuba’s estimated 1,000-to-1,500 Jews will likely benefit from stronger
    ties to Jewish organizations, while enjoying the benefits accrued to all
    Cubans from opened relations.
    By Ron Kampeas Dec. 17, 2014 | 11:11 PM

    JTA – Alan Gross was imprisoned while trying to connect Cuba’s isolated
    Jewish community to the wider world. The deal that got him released five
    years later may do just that and much more.

    Gross’ flight home to suburban Washington on Wednesday with his wife,
    Judy, was part of a historic deal that overturns over five decades of
    U.S. policy isolating the Communist island nation helmed by the Castro

    “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance
    our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between
    our two countries,” President Obama said in announcing Gross’ release
    and radical changes in U.S. Cuba policy.

    U.S. officials in a conference call outlined sweeping changes, including
    the resumption of full diplomatic relations, the opening of an embassy
    in Havana, and a loosening of trade and travel restrictions.

    Dina Siegel Vann, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Belfer
    Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs, said Gross’ release and
    the opening of ties with Cuba is a twofer for the Jews: In addition to
    the benefits accrued to all Cubans from open relations, she said, Cuban
    Jews “will have stronger ties to Jewish organizations, they will be much
    more in the open.” An estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Jews live in Cuba.

    Gross, who is now 65, was arrested in 2009 after setting up Internet
    access for the Cuban Jewish community while working as a contractor for
    the U.S. Agency for International Development. Never formally charged
    with espionage, Gross was convicted in 2009 for “crimes against the state.”

    Back in the United States on Wednesday, Gross held a news conference,
    which he began with the greeting “Chag sameach,” noting that his release
    coincided with the first day of Hanukkah. He thanked political leaders,
    the Washington Jewish community, the local Jewish Community Relations
    Council and other faith groups that pressed for his release.

    “But ultimately – ultimately – the decision to arrange for and secure my
    release was made in the Oval Office,”said Gross, reserving special
    praise for President Obama and his National Security Council.

    Vann said improved U.S.-Cuba relations would have a rollover effect,
    removing obstacles to U.S. ties with other Latin American countries —
    and this in turn would remove tensions that have affected Jewish

    “Cuba and Venezuela have a very interdependent relationship,” she said.
    “Anti-Semitism and anti-American rhetoric are being used by the regime
    in Venezuela, and with this that’s being undermined.”

    Daniel Mariaschin, who directs B’nai B’rith International, a group with
    a strong Latin American presence, said a new era of ties “will raise the
    profile of Latin American communities and interest in those communities.”

    In a deal American officials said was technically separate from the
    Gross release, the United States and Cuba agreed to exchange the three
    remaining incarcerated members of the “Cuban Five,” a Florida-based spy
    ring, for an American spy held in Cuba for 20 years and whose identity
    remains a secret.

    Obama insisted that Gross was not part of the spy exchange and that, in
    fact, his imprisonment held up changes to the U.S. Cuba relationship he
    had intended on initiating years ago.

    “While I’ve been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a
    major obstacle stood in our way,” the president said, referring to
    Gross’ “wrongful imprisonment.”

    Republicans who have opposed easing the Cuba embargo blasted the deal.

    Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the son of Cuban immigrants, told Fox News
    that Obama was “the worst negotiator since at least Jimmy Carter, and
    maybe in the history of this country.”

    Many Jewish groups welcomed the deal, however, and noted the political
    difficulties it must have created for the Obama administration.

    “We know the decision to release the Cuban three was not an easy one,”
    the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said
    in a statement. “We appreciate the efforts of President Obama and Vice
    President Biden in bringing this about.”

    Gross is in ill health. He has lost more than 100 pounds since his
    incarceration and suffered from painful arthritis.

    A senior administration official who spoke to reporters before Obama’s
    announcement said the Vatican played a key role in negotiating the deal,
    in part through Pope Francis’ pleas to Cuba to release Gross as a
    humanitarian gesture.

    The official, however, also noted the significance of the Jewish holiday
    season of freedom.

    “We believe that Alan was wrongfully imprisoned and overjoyed that Alan
    will be reunited with his family in this holiday season of Hanukkah,”
    the official said.

    Source: Alan Gross’ release, improved U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties to
    impact Cuban Jews – Jewish World News Israel News | Haaretz –