Sometimes people can change the course of history by being in the right place at the right time. This was my fortunate experience in helping to change America's 54 year old policy towards Cuba.
I am so happy Alan Gross is back home after five years in a Cuban jail. I am pleased another American was released after 20 years and three other Cubans are now home. (I know this opinion is disputed by many.) The credit for this historic breakthrough goes to President Obama, Pope Francis, Cuban President Raul Castro, hosts of government leaders in Canada and Latin America, and thousands of people who demonstrated and prayed for the release of AID worker Alan Gross. He had been arrested in Cuba while reportedly trying to supply internet equipment to some Jewish leaders in that country.
The White House says President Obama began to work for the release of Alan Gross in 2013. My small role came about during one of Washington's thousands of parties, where real business is conducted. Last year I went to the Cuban Interest Section and had a good conversation with our host, Jose R. Cabanas. I knew very little about the Alan Gross situation, but told him I thought relations could be improved if Gross were set free. He said three Cubans in American jails should also be returned home.
This would all be for humanitarian reasons; there was no discussion of spies or right and wrong. I told him I would raise the issue and quote him at the White House briefing and he agreed. He spoke openly, with other people listening.
The next day I quoted the exchange with then press secretary Jay Carney. My thanks to Major Garrett of CBS news, who yielded some of his time so I could ask the question. Jay said they were pressing for the release of Alan Gross.
When the surprise announcement was made on December 17, the Obama Administration stressed the humanitarian nature of the prisoner exchange. The US and Cuba will open diplomatic and more trade relations. Alan Gross flew home on a US Government plane, spoke to President Obama, and said this was probably the best Chanukah of his life!