US official: Cuba releases Alan Gross after 5 years in prison


Alan Gross FILE – In this Nov. 27, 2012 file photo provided by James L. Berenthal, jailed American Alan Gross poses for a photo during a visit by Rabbi Elie Abadie and U.S. lawyer James L. Berenthal at Finlay military hospital as he serves a prison sentence in Havana, Cuba. AP sources: American Alan Gross released from Cuba after 5 years in prison. (AP Photo/James L. Berenthal, File)

WASHINGTON — American Alan Gross was released from a Cuban prison after five years Wednesday, a surprise move that is also paving the way for the “most important changes to Cuba policy in more than 50 years,” senior Obama administration officials said.

The U.S. also said it would soon re-establish its embassy in Havana and begin high-level visits with Cuba. The administration also said it would review the country’s inclusion on a terrorism list.

Gross, 65, was on an American government plane bound for the U.S. Wednesday morning after being released on humanitarian grounds by the Cuban government at the request of the Obama administration. Gross was detained in December 2009 on his fifth trip to Cuba under USAID to work with Jewish communities on setting up Internet access that bypassed local censorship. He was on his way back with his wife, Judy, in time for Hanukkah.

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.



Bonnie Rubinstein, Gross’ sister, heard the news from a cousin, who saw it on television.

“We’re like screaming and jumping up and down,” she said in a brief telephone interview from her home in Texas.

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 has resisted calls to drop the embargo.

Obama and Raul Castro shook hands and exchanged pleasantries last year while both attended a memorial service in South Africa for Nelson Mandela.

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.

Story compiled with information from The Associated Press.