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American contractor Alan Gross freed after 5 years in Cuban prison

Release is part of a humanitarian prisoner swap in landmark deal to overhaul Cuba relations

By Scott Smith and Ed Adamczyk

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17 (UPI) -- American contractor Alan Gross, 65, has been released in a prisoner swap with Cuba after 5 years in prison.

The swap is part of a larger initiative by President Barack Obama, announced Wednesday, to overhaul relations with Cuba, which have been frigid since the 1961 embargo was imposed.

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The landmark deal with Cuba included the release of a U.S. spy jailed in Cuba for 20 years, as well as Cuban spies held in the U.S. since 2001.

Gross was arrested after traveling to Cuba under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development, delivering phones to Jewish residents on the island. Cuban officials claimed he was trying to foment a popular uprising.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., arrived in Havana Wednesday with Gross' wife, Judy, to bring him home. The three legislators were among a delegation that met with Cuban President Raul Castro in 2013 to discuss Gross' case.

Gross said, "I'm free" as the plane carrying him left Cuban airspace, CNN reported. He was in Cuban custody since 2009, when we was accused of attempting to install illegal Internet connections while working in Cuba.

Cuba and the United States have had frosty relations since Fidel Castro's communist revolution took over the country in 1959. Cuba quickly allied itself with Russia, which led to the the Cuban Missile Crisis showdown that put the world on the brink of nuclear war.

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