Alan Gross speaks to the press after being released from a Cuban prison.
Alan Gross speaks to the press after being released from a Cuban prison. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Alan Gross, the aid worker from Maryland whose imprisonment in Cuba became an obstacle to the Obama administration's drive to improve U.S.-Cuban relations, said Wednesday that he's encouraged by the progress made by Washington and Havana in the year since his release.

"While I served as an involuntary catalyst for this change, I hope now to help foster continued good relations between our countries and our citizens," Gross, 66, said in a statement.


Gross, who grew up in Baltimore, attended the University of Maryland and settled in Potomac, was working to connect Cuba's small Jewish community to the Internet for the U.S. Agency for International Development when he was arrested in Havana in 2009.

He was convicted of crimes against the Cuban state and sentenced to 15 years in prison. U.S. officials and luminaries including former President Jimmy Carter and Pope Francis appealed to Cuban President Raul Castro for his release.

Gross had served more than five years in prison when the Cuban government granted him a humanitarian release in December 2014 — a precondition to a larger deal in which the countries exchanged prisoners, re-established diplomatic relations and reopened embassies in each other's capitals.

Gross appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" in November — his first interview describing his captivity.

Gross' health declined while he was locked up, and when he spoke to reporters the day he returned to the United States, he was missing teeth.

But he said he is enjoying returning to family life, and expects to become a grandfather soon.

"I am reminded time and again that freedom is bliss," he said.

"I am also gratified to witness a newfound diplomatic relationship between Cuba and the United States," he said. "I hope this new — and historic — relationship continues to evolve in a positive way."