Jewish-American aid worker Alan Gross has been released from Cuban prison after five years, major media outlets reported Wednesday morning, citing United States officials. The U.S. secured Gross’s freedom in exchange for the release of three Cubans imprisoned in America.
Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who went to Cuba to help the Cuban Jewish community access the Internet, received a 15-year prison sentence for what the Cuban government called “crimes against the state.” He marked his fifth year of incarceration on December 3, and his health has deteriorated drastically, according to his family.
The Associated Press reported that, in addition to the prisoner exchange, the U.S. and Cuba would begin talks to normalize diplomatic relations for the first time in half a century, planning to open an American embassy in the Cuban capital of Havana.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) had expressed optimism about Gross’s future upon visiting Gross in November.
“I do feel we are closer” to Gross’s freedom, Flake said last month. “One, because of what Alan Gross has said himself. This is going to end one way or another. We have gone on five years and any benefit the Cuban government may have seen has to have evaporated.”
The Cuban prisoners exchanged for Gross are reportedly members of the “Cuban Five,” a group of men sent by former Cuban president Fidel Castro to spy on the U.S. from south Florida. In 2001, they were convicted of conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents.
Jewish organizations had advocated for Gross’s freedom throughout the duration of his imprisonment.
“For the past several years, the OU has prayed, rallied, and lobbied in support of Alan’s release,” the Orthodox Union said in a statement. “Our joy upon receiving the news of his freedom is enhanced as we note that this week synagogues around the nation and around the world read the Torah portion, Mikeitz, that recounts the release of Joseph from his own unjust imprisonment in ancient Egypt. We are certain this will prove to be a most joyous Chanukah for Alan Gross and his family.” (JNS.org)