Flashing a big smile with missing teeth, the American contractor freed Wednesday after five years of detention in Cuba thanked President Barack Obama for securing his freedom and voiced support for more open relations between the two countries.
“It’s good to be home,” said the contractor, Alan Gross.
“In my last letter to President Obama,” he said, “I wrote that despite my five-year tenure in captivity, I would not want to trade places with him. And I certainly wouldn’t want to trade places with him on this glorious day.”
Gross, 65, was working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was detained in 2009 and accused of undermining Cuba. He was flown out of Cuba on Wednesday morning. On the plane was a bowl of popcorn, a snack he had missed, plus a corned beef sandwich, latkes and applesauce.
Gross’ wife said this month that he was “literally wasting away” in confinement, and a spokeswoman noted Wednesday that he had lost five teeth because of poor health.
Moments after Gross touched down at Andrews Air Force Base, Obama announced that he was re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than half a century. Gross expressed fondness for the people of Cuba.
“In no way are they responsible for the ordeal to which my family and I have been subjected,” he said. “To me, Cubanos, or at least most of them, are incredibly kind, generous and talented. It pains me to see them treated so unjustly as a consequence of two governments’ mutually belligerent policies.”