By Stan Jeter
After serving five years of 15-year sentence in Cuba, U.S. contractor Alan Gross landed in Maryland today, a free man — just hours before President Barack Obama announced the start of normalizing diplomatic relations with the communist island nation.
At the same time, the United States also announced the release of three Cubans jailed in the United States.
The prisoner exchange coincided with a historic shift in US-Cuba relations. The two nations have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties.
Alan Gross made a statement to the press after his release. Click play to watch.
Gross, 65, a contractor for USAID (United States Agency for International Development) was arrested in December 2009 while setting up Internet access for the island’s small Jewish community.
Cuba severely restricts Internet use for its citizens, and authorities accused Gross of smuggling illegal technology into the country to bypass local restrictions.
During the five years he was imprisoned, Gross watched Cuban baseball and read books and magazines sent by his wife. But his health deteriorated. He lost more than 100 pounds and most of the vision in his right eye.
After his mother’s death in June, 2014, he became withdrawn.
When he was released on Wednesday, a family spokesman said Gross and his wife walked hand-in-hand to the military plane which would take them home.
And when the pilot announced they were leaving Cuban airspace, Gross sood up and took a deep breath.
“I’m free, “he said in his first phone call to his daughters.
“It’s the best Hannukkah I’ll be celebrating in a long time,” Gross, who is Jewish, told the press during a brief statement on his return home.
CBN News’s Gary Lane has been reporting on Alan Gross’s imprisonment for years. He spoke with his wife, Judy Gross, in October about her husband’s health and situation in the Cuban prison.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.