PLANO (CBSDFW.COM) – With a corned beef on rye sandwich waiting for him, a man imprisoned in Cuba for five years is back in the U.S.READ MORE: Texas Experiencing Another COVID-19 Surge
Alan Gross was released from Cuba Wednesday. In Washington D.C. he told reporters, “This is great,” and says he learned freedom isn’t free.
Gross has family in North Texas, but the story is about a lot more than just him. His release is part of an unprecedented change in how the U.S. and Cuba see each other. The U.S. will lift travel, trade and communication restrictions with the communist country.
At Congregation Anshai Torah in Plano, members including Gross’s family have held weekly prayers for Alan Gross’s release. Gross’s sister Bonnie didn’t want to appear on camera but she tells us she spent the morning jumping up and down laughing and crying for joy. It’s a huge difference compared to what the family has felt these past five years.
“Every shabbat morning we strive to say a prayer for Alan so that we know and he knows that he hasn’t been forgotten,” Rabbi Stefan Weinberg said.
When Weinberg got the news of Gross’s release, he says it was the first time in years he heard joy in the voice of Gross’s sister, Bonnie.
“‘Hello, Rabbi,’ and it was a different Bonnie, and it was such a pleasure to hear,” Weinberg said.
Now as the synagogue prepares to celebrate the first day of Chanaka, its members have a special reason to be thankful.
“They must have a renewed sense of trust in humanity,” Weinberg said.
Across town, members of the Cuban-American community were watching the developments closely.
He’s lived in the Dallas for the last 15 years, and for the last two and a half he’s run Havana Cafe on Buckner Blvd. Now with the promise of full diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. Ernesto Velez hopes he’ll see more of his family back home in Cuba.READ MORE: Administrative Court Judge Orders Mask-Wearing To Enter Dallas County Courthouses
“You know, my mom, my father, they’re getting old. My father, he just got 89 years old last week. I couldn’t be there for him,” Velez said.
President Obama announced the release of American prisoner Alan Gross paves the way to opening an embassy in Havana and easing restrictions on travel and banking relations.
“Imagine in Cuba, a family can eat with a hundred dollars, so if I can send more money without any penalties, that will be great for me,” Velez said.
Ernesto’s brother Francisco is also encouraged by the promise of closer ties between the two countries.
“I think in the future the Cuban people will live better than right now,” Francisco Velez said.
Not everyone agrees. Political leaders from both parties have denounced plans to normalize relations warning that it could strengthen the oppressive Castro regime, but Ernesto says he believes giving the Cuban people more access to the U.S. will be a liberating force.
“I’m hopeful because we bring information to them. We bring videos. We tell them about how’s life here, what you can do with your life here, and they see it,” Ernesto Velez said.
CBS 11 News contacted both American Airlines and Southwest. Neither company has any immediate plans for flights to Cuba, but both airlines are monitoring the developments for any opening to expand service.
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