The release of American Jew Alan Gross from a Cuban prison has heralded a major shift in relations between the US and Cuba.
Gross, who is now 65, was arrested in December of 2009 for importing banned technology. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) subcontractor was trying to set up Internet service for the Cuban Jewish community.
Gross had been arrested while distributing satellite phones to the small community of Jews in Cuba. Officials accused him of being an American intelligence agent and sentenced him to 15 years for crimes against the state.
In a letter that Gross wrote to Obama last year, Gross voiced his despair at ever being released.
“Officials in your administration have expressed sympathy and called for my unconditional release,” wrote Gross, “and I very much appreciate that. But it has not brought me home. Only with your personal involvement can my release be secured.”
US President Barack Obama spoke with Cuban President Raul Castro by telephone on Tuesday marking the first time that a US president had done so since the Cuban revolution of 1959 that brought Fidel Castro to power and the closing of embassies in 1961, which cut all diplomatic relations.
The Cuban official that announced his release said that it was at the request of the US government and on humanitarian grounds.
Gross’ wife has described him as in poor health. He has difficulty seeing from his right eye and became increasingly suicidal while losing as much as 100 pounds while being held in prison. He had started refusing to see her, their daughter and the Jewish community who came to visit him on holy days. (YNet)
After the release of Gross, Obama also announced a major loosening on travel restrictions to Cuba, along with a similar easing on economic restrictions. The two countries will be reopening their embassies and normalizing diplomatic relations.
“Today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past, so as to reach for a better future, for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world,” Obama said.
He credited Canada and Pope Francis for helping to promote the release and normalization of relations between the US and Cuba. Secret diplomatic talks with Cuba, however, had been held for 18 months leading up to the announcement.
During Gross’ time in prison, leaders of the Jewish community were vocal in their support with five hundred Rabbis sending Cuban President Raul Castro a letter calling for his release in 2012. Demands were also made by the Anti-Defamation League and other organizations. (JPost)
Gross’ release is actually part of a swap with Cuba also releasing one intelligence agent that had been imprisoned for 20 years. For their release, three Cubans held by the US government since 2001 on charges of conspiracy have been released to Cuba. They were sent by then President Fidel Castro to infiltrate the anti-Castro Cuban community in Florida.
While the swap has laid the foundation for a major overhaul in US-Cuban relations, others are skeptical that the people of Cuba will benefit from the renewed openness:
“This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba,” said US Senator Marco Rubio. “But it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift that the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.”
Obama has also set in motion steps that could remove Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, even though it has very friendly diplomatic and trade relations with Israel’s arch enemy, Iran. This leads some to wonder if Obama will be softening up relations with Iran before leaving office in 2016. (CSMonitor)
Iran holds American civilians in slum-type prisons with regular beatings, including missionaries for spreading the Good News of Yeshua (Jesus), such as Pastor Saeed Abedini. No word of official requests for His release from President Obama or Secretary of State Kerry are known.