Sen. Levin to meet freed contractor
Washington — U.S. Sen. Carl Levin is among the lawmakers who met a freed U.S. government contractor who had been held by the Cuban government for five years.
Alan Gross, a Maryland resident and U.S. contractor, was freed and landed Wednesday morning at Andrews Air Force Base. The United States, meanwhile, is reopening its embassy in Havana after a suspension of diplomatic relations for more than 50 years.
"Seeing Alan Gross walk off that plane with his wife, Judy, was a sight I'll never forget," the Detroit Democrat said in a statement. "His unjust imprisonment and his family's nightmare are finally over. A more regular relationship between the United States and Cuba has been overdue and is now possible. U.S. policy up to now has not worked in U.S. interests, and it has not weakened the Cuban regime.
"Alan's return home also sends a message to Americans held around the world that our nation will not rest until they come home. I support the president's courageous decision."
Levin traveled to Cuba in 2011 and met with Gross. He has long advocated his release — along with much of the Senate — and is scheduled to meet Gross along with other lawmakers at Andrews Air Force Base upon his arrival.
Others at the base included Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, vice chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, blasted the administration's decision, while praising Gross' release.
"In exchange for Mr. Gross's freedom, President Obama sent back to Cuba three spies convicted of espionage against America, including one who was convicted of conspiracy to murder Americans," Miller said in a Wednesday statement. "In stark contrast, Mr. Gross was working as an international aid worker.
"This sets a very dangerous precedent, as similar dictatorial regimes across the world now know the price that can be extracted when Americans are taken and wrongfully imprisoned which could put countless Americans at risk across the globe."
She criticized Obama's decision to liberalize relations with the dictatorship without winning freedoms for Cubans.
"If President Obama wanted real change for the Cuban people," Miller said, "he would have continued the demand to force the Castro regime to answer to its own people, who continue to be denied basic human rights, in free and fair elections."
But the Obama administration's changes on Cuba won't result in one big shift yet: No immediate resumption of U.S. auto imports to Cuba. Cuba is known for its fleet of 1950s-era American cars still in service because of the longtime U.S. economic embargo.
The White House says "items that will be authorized for export include certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector Cuban entrepreneurs, and agricultural equipment for small farmers. This change will make it easier for Cuban citizens to have access to certain lower-priced goods to improve their living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state."