MIAMI (CBSMiami) – American Alan Gross is back in the U.S. after his release Wednesday morning from a Cuban prison.
Gross was Cuba’s highest profile prisoner and was held for more than five years.
On Wednesday, he spoke out after his release and stood by his wife as a free man.
“What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country and thank you President Obama for everything that you have done,” said Gross.
He even cracked a joke about his missing front teeth.
“To all those who tried to visit but were unable to, thank you for trying. I am at your service as soon as I get some new teeth and I hope that they’ll be strong and sharp enough to make a difference,” said Gross.
But his experience in Cuba was no joke.
“Freedom is not free,” said Gross. ” We must never forget the two pillars of Moses’ covenant; freedom and responsibility. I am incredibly blessed finally to have the freedom to resume a positive and constructive life.”
On his plane ride home, he called his daughters while enjoying some American treats he had been missing for five years.
“Even in Cuba, M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hand,” said Gross. “It was crucial to my survival knowing that I was not forgotten. Your prayers and your actions have been comforting, reassuring and sustaining. In the meantime, I ask that you respect my wishes for complete and total privacy.”
Gross’ release by Cuba came in exchange for the release of three Cubans jailed in Florida for spying. This was not a prisoner swap from the administration’s point of view. Officials argue Gross was not a spy and therefore would not be traded for Cubans who were.
President Barack Obama announced his release Wednesday. The president said Gross was released on humanitarian grounds and once he was freed, that allowed the administration to make other moves of a conciliatory nature which included the release of three Cuban intelligence officers.
Another major world leader also helped push for the release, according to President Barack Obama.
“His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years,” said the president.
Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2009 while working in the Communist-run country to set up Internet access, which bypassed local restrictions and monitoring. At the time, Gross was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. government’s U.S. Agency for International Development, which promotes democracy on the island. Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Obama administration officials had considered Gross’ imprisonment an impediment to improving relations with Cuba.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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