The United States took a major step forward in re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba today following the release of Alan Gross, an American who has been imprisoned in the island nation for five years.
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, traveled to Cuba in 2012 to meet Gross, and had been corresponding with him as the U.S. urged Cuban President Raul Castro to release the humanitarian.
“It was a privilege to meet with Alan in Cuba two years ago as part of a bipartisan Congressional Delegation,” said Coons in a statement. “He gave me a bracelet he’d made out of scraps of plastic with hopes that we wouldn’t forget him. We didn’t. I am grateful to President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and all those who never stopped working to win Alan’s release. “
Gross was arrested while trying to provide Internet access to Cubans through a project sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
News of his release was followed by an announcement by President Barack Obama establishing a new course of action to ease an embargo on Cuba that spans decades.
“In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” said President Obama. “Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”
The new policy approach includes re-opening the U.S. embassy in Cuba’s capitol city of Havanna, easing up on some travel bans and allowing Americans traveling back from Cuba to bring back up to $400 worth of goods and up to $100 worth of tobacco and alcohol.
The policy changes will also make it easier for commerce among the U.S. and Cuba.