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WASHINGTON (WJZ) –President Obama spoke Wednesday afternoon about how is his administration held discussions about Maryland native Alan Gross’ release as well as other matters with Cuban leaders.
Obama said Gross was released on humanitarian grounds. The president did acknowledge the complicated relations between U.S and Cuba as unique. But it is “time to lift the barriers between the two countries,” Obama said, which means allowing Americans to travel there.
Maryland are reacting to the news, as Rochelle Ritchie reports, for some it’s been a long battle for Gross’ release.
“It was crucial to my survival knowing I was not forgotten,” Gross said.
The president of the University of Baltimore wrote an editorial about the changes he has seen in Cuba since his last visit in 1999 and his most recent visit in October of this year.
In a November editorial, Kurt Schmoke said, “the citizens of Cuba desire close ties and normal business relations, but the governments of our two countries remain stuck in Cold War-era political battles.”
Schmoke said Wednesday’s unexpected announcement by President Obama is a step in the right direction.
“My hope is that what this means is maybe there is an opening to Cuba the way Nixon opened up to China,” he added. “There are some people who will be upset with him but the younger generation of Cuban Americans seem to recognize there needs to be a change in policy.”
The fight to free Gross came with support of 300 American rabbis writing a letter to the President saying,”his immediate release must be a priority for our nation. Indeed we believe this is our moral imperative. We ask, with all respect, that you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure a prompt end to Alan’s and his family’s continuing nightmare.”
Several Maryland officials were also elated to hear of the 65-year-old Potomac man’s release after they spent years calling for his release.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said she was pleased to hear of Gross’ release and went to Andrews Air Force base to greet him when he arrived around 11 a.m.
“I was so pleased to be at Andrews AFB this morning to welcome Alan Gross as he touched ground back in the United States of America. I am so honored to be part of his first day back home in five years. Today is a new day and a monumental breakthrough,” Mikulski said.
She learned of Gross’ release when Vice President Joe Biden called her Tuesday night.
“During his long imprisonment, Alan’s health deteriorated. He suffered tremendously. His wife Judy and two daughters fought every single day for his release. Today that ends and Alan is free,” she added. “I applaud his release and hope that he can finally get the care and assistance he so desperately needs. I am looking forward to learning more details when the President speaks this afternoon.”
Mikulski had written to President Obama about Gross, asking him to redouble his efforts on his release. She had also worked with other Maryland officials to lobby for his return, like Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D – Dist. 8).
Van Hollen actually rode back from Cuba with Gross and his wife Judy Wednesday morning.
“Today, it brings me great joy to join with Judy Gross and Senators Leahy and Flake to bring my friend Alan Gross home from Cuba after his five years in prison,” Van Hollen said. “This day would not have been possible without the tireless advocacy of Alan’s wife, Judy, who never gave up. I also want to thank President Obama and his team, including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, for their dedication to this effort and to their vision of a new day in the relationship between the United States and Cuba. I also want to recognize my friend and colleague, Congressman Jim McGovern, for his important role in gaining Alan’s release, and for his persistence in working to open a new chapter in the U.S. – Cuban relationship.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D. Md.) was also there to greet Gross when he arrived.
“On this first day of Hanukah, which celebrates great miracles, I was proud to welcome Alan Gross home to Maryland today and to talk with him about his ordeal,” Cardin said. “This is a wonderful, and long overdue, reunion day for Alan and his wife Judy, who has shown incredible strength and courage on behalf of her husband and family throughout this time.”
“For five years, we have been urging for his release. I want to thank President Obama and his administration for their commitment to this cause. Alan’s release marks a new day for U.S.-Cuban relations. No degree of ‘normalization’ could ever occur as long as the Cuban government was unjustly holding an innocent American citizen,” he added. “We will not forget the previous transgressions of the Cuban government, but we can move on together toward a more fruitful relationship with one of our closest neighbors. A healthy and prosperous Cuba is good for the United States and will promote a more open society that respects human rights and individual freedoms.”
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