Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    US, Cuba seek to normalize relations after Alan Gross released

    US, Cuba seek to normalize relations after Alan Gross released
    Published December 17, 2014 FoxNews.com

    The Obama administration is moving to normalize diplomatic relations
    with Cuba, sources told Fox News, after American Alan Gross was released
    from the communist country Wednesday following five years in prison.

    Sources say President Obama plans to announce the opening of a U.S.
    embassy in Havana and call on Congress to lift the long-standing embargo.

    Together, the announcements would mark the most significant shift in
    U.S. policy toward the communist island in decades, American officials
    said Wednesday. Obama was to announce the policy changes from the White
    House at noon Wednesday.

    The announcement comes after Gross was freed, as part of a swap that
    included the release of three Cubans jailed in the U.S. A senior Obama
    administration official told Fox News that Gross left Cuba on a U.S.
    government plane Wednesday morning. “Mr. Gross was released on
    humanitarian grounds by the Cuban government at the request of the
    United States,” the official said.

    Obama administration officials have considered Gross’ imprisonment an
    impediment to improving relations with Cuba, and the surprise deal was
    quickly making way for rapid changes in U.S. policy.

    The release follows years of desperate appeals by Gross and his
    family. His wife, Judy Gross, said earlier this year that she feared for
    his life, saying he might do “something drastic.”

    Gross was detained in December 2009 while working to set up Internet
    access as a subcontractor for the U.S. government’s U.S. Agency for
    International Development, which does work promoting democracy in the
    communist country. It was his fifth trip to Cuba to work with Jewish
    communities on setting up Internet access that bypassed local censorship.

    Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to
    undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years
    in prison.

    The three Cubans released in exchange for Gross are part of the
    so-called Cuban Five — a group of men who were part of the “Wasp
    Network” sent by Cuba’s then-President Fidel Castro to spy in South
    Florida. The men, who are hailed as heroes in Cuba, were convicted in
    2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as
    foreign agents in the U.S.

    Two of the Cuban Five were previously released after finishing their
    sentences.

    In a statement marking the fifth anniversary of Gross’ detention earlier
    this month, Obama hinted that his release could lead to a thaw in
    relations with Cuba.

    “The Cuban Government’s release of Alan on humanitarian grounds would
    remove an impediment to more constructive relations between the United
    States and Cuba,” Obama said in a statement.

    The president has taken some steps to ease U.S. restrictions on Cuba
    after Raul Castro took over as president in 2010 from his ailing
    brother. He has sought to ease travel and financial restrictions on
    Americans with family in Cuba, but had resisted calls to drop the embargo.

    The surprise prisoner swap has echoes of the deal the U.S. cut earlier
    this year to secure the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been
    held by the Taliban. In exchange for his release in May, the U.S. turned
    over five Taliban prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

    Fox News’ Wes Barrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    Source: US, Cuba seek to normalize relations after Alan Gross released |
    Fox News –
    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/12/17/american-alan-gross-released-from-cuban-prison-official-says/