U.S. to normalize relations with Cuba after hostage release

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Alan Gross arrives from Cuba Photo: Jeff Flake

WASHINGTON — President Obama said the United States will normalize relations with Cuba after it released an American who has been held since 2009.

In addition to normalizing relations, three Cuban spies held in the United States have been released.

Gross was convicted of espionage by a Cuban court in 2011 and sentenced to 15 years for bringing telecommunication devices into Cuba.

Gross was arrested after traveling under a program under the U.S. Agency for International Development to deliver satellite phones and other communications equipment to the island’s small Jewish population.

In 2011, he was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for attempting to set up an Internet network for Cuban dissidents “to promote destabilizing activities and subvert constitutional order.”

The three Cubans released as a part of the deal belonged the so-called Cuban Five, a quintet of Cuban intelligence officers convicted in 2001 for espionage.

They were part of what was called the Wasp Network, which collected intelligence on prominent Cuban-American exile leaders and U.S. military bases.

The leader of the five, Gerardo Hernandez, was linked to the February 1996 downing of the two civilian planes operated by the U.S.-based dissident group Brothers to the Rescue, in which four men died.

He is serving two life sentences.

Luis Medina, also known as Ramon Labanino; and Antonio Guerrero have just a few years left on their sentences.

The remaining two, Rene Gonzalez and Fernando Gonzalez, were released after serving most of their 15-year sentences and have already returned to Cuba, where they were hailed as heroes.

What this means:

    • Travel restrictions eased
    • Increased exports of U.S. goods to Cuba
    • U.S. travelers to bring in some items
    • Embassies will be opened in both countries

While only Congress can formally overturn the five decades-long embargo, the White House has some authorities to liberalize trade and travel to the island.