American Alan Gross, who spent five years in a Cuban prison before his release today as a humanitarian gesture, said “it’s good to be home,” and that he hoped the U.S. and Cuba move past their “mutually belligerent” policies.
“Two wrongs never made a right,” Gross said in Washington shortly after he returned to the U.S. aboard a government plane.
Gross appeared frail but cheerful. Some of his front teeth were missing.
Gross thanked President Obama and his national security team for working toward his freedom.
“In my last letter to President Obama, I wrote that despite my five-year tenure in captivity I would not want to trade places with him, and I certainly would not want to trade places on this glorious day,” he said. “Five years of isolation notwithstanding, I did not need daily briefings to be cognizant of what are undoubtedly incredible challenges facing our nation and the global community.”
Gross said he did not blame the people of Cuba for his ordeal, and called the steps announced by Obama to normalize relations with Cuba “a game changer which I support.”
The former contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development was working on a program to improve Internet access for Jewish Cubans. During several trips to Cuba, he had covertly distributed laptops. A Cuban court found him guilty of crimes against the state in 2011, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
Gross thanked his wife, Judy Gross, and his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill from both parties. He singled out Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., as well as Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif., “who supported, spoke up for, and visited me, subjected themselves to my ranting, and helped me to regain some of my weight.”
Gross’ suffered ill health during his five years in detention. Earlier this month, Judy Gross said her husband had lost 100 pounds, could barely walk because of chronic pain, had lost five teeth and much of the sight in his right eye. She told NPR in an interview in June that Alan Gross was “despondent and very hopeless.” She warned that he had said he would “take drastic measures if he’s not out very shortly.” Gross had staged a nine-day hunger strike earlier this year.