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Washington — Alan Gross emerged Wednesday from five years of captivity in Cuba praising the Cuban people and offering a lesson he said he learned: Freedom is not free.

In his first public remarks after arriving in the U.S., Gross also spoke supportively of President Barack Obama’s move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than a half-century of discord. He said that more than five decades of history had shown that the previous U.S. approach to its old foe wasn’t effective.

“Two wrongs never make a right,” Gross said. “I truly hope that we can now get beyond these mutually belligerent policies.”

Appearing in decent health and walking without support, Gross spoke to reporters at a Washington law office shortly after a U.S. plane flew him from Cuba back to the U.S. Despite his harrowing experience, Gross said he had the utmost respect for the Cuban people and said he was pained “to see them treated so unjustly.”

“In no way are they responsible for the ordeal to which my family and I have been subjected,” Gross said, describing the vast majority of Cubans as “incredibly kind, generous and talented.”

Gross, 65, was freed from prison Wednesday as part of an agreement that included the release of three Cubans jailed in the United States, officials said.

His wife, Judy Gross, has called him a humanitarian and an idealist, someone who was “probably naïve” and did not realize the risks of going to Cuba as a subcontractor for the federal government’s U.S. Agency for International Development.

In his brief appearance, Gross effusively praised the U.S. officials, lawmakers, family members and community members who helped secure his release and advocated for him over the past half-decade. Knowing he wasn’t forgotten at home was crucial to his survival, he said.

Gross was arrested in 2009 while working in the Communist-run country to set up Internet access for the island’s small Jewish community, access that bypassed local restrictions and monitoring. Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government. Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

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