Fran Quigley 06-08-2015

Forget cigars—some low-income communities in the U.S. are importing Cuba's health-care strategy. 

Photo viaTerry Straehley via Flickr / RNS

A view to the west over the ocean and the once-posh suburb of Vedado in Havana, Cuba. Photo viaTerry Straehley via Flickr / RNS

Alan Gross, the Jewish international aid worker held on alleged spy charges in Cuba for five years, was freed on Dec. 17 — what some are calling a Hanukkah miracle on the first day of the holiday that celebrates religious freedom.

Gross, 65, of Maryland, has always claimed that he only went to Cuba to bring communications equipment to the small Jewish community left in Havana. However, the Castro government said he was part of a spy network attempting to set up a secret network for Cuban Jews. Gross was serving a 15-year sentence.

President Obama chose the Dec. 17 release as a springboard to announce a massive historic “normalization” of U.S.-Cuba relations. Meantime, in Cuba, President Raul Castro, who held a press conference in Havana at noon, was expected to release 53 Cuban political prisoners.

Obama particularly credited the “moral example of Pope Francis,” who actively encouraged Gross’ release. Francis, who held private meetings at the Vatican to secure the deal, praised the move, sending “his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

Danny Duncan Collum 10-02-2013

Lone gunman? President and Jacqueline Kennedy minutes before the assassination.

JFK's assasination provides us with lessons about the dangers of secret wars and unaccountable power.

Duane Shank 03-27-2012

Pope Benedict XVI with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana on Tuesday. ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Benedict XVI’s 3-day visit to Cuba began Monday, when President Raul Castro greeted the pontiff at the airport of Santiago de Cuba. The arrival was fairly quiet, but the evening Mass in Santiago’s plaza was attended by an estimated 200,000 Cubans. The pope's long-awaited visit attracted news coverage from around the world, mostly focusing in the pope’s message.