Havana: Cuba has freed Alan Gross, an American contractor jailed on the communist-ruled island since 2009, a US official said Wednesday, amid signs of an imminent thaw in ties between the Cold War foes.
US President Barack Obama and Cuba`s President Raul Castro were both to speak at 1700 GMT on relations between the two countries, their respective governments said.
"This morning, Alan Gross has departed Cuba on a US government plane bound for the United States," the US official said.
"Mr Gross was released on humanitarian grounds by the Cuban government at the request of the United States."
Cuba arrested Gross, 65, in December 2009 for distributing communications equipment to members of the island`s Jewish community while working as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 after being convicted of "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state."
His imprisonment was seen as a major obstacle to improving relations between Washington and Havana, which has taken steps in recent years to liberalize its Soviet-style economy.
Havana has pressed for the release of three Cubans imprisoned for espionage in the United States -- demands rejected by Washington -- while Obama has made Gross`s release a condition for any improvement in relations.
The United States imposed a trade embargo against Cuba in 1960, and the two countries have not had official diplomatic relations since 1961.
They have maintained "interests sections" in each other`s capital, and contacts between the two have increased in recent months they responded to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Obama also eased rules on travel to the island, while sticking to a hard line against the island 90 miles (150 kilometers) off the coast of Florida.
Several polls have shown that a majority of Americans favor a change in policy toward Cuba, even in Florida, home to a large anti-Castro Cuban-American community.
Gross`s release came two weeks after a desperate plea by his wife, who has accused both governments of using her husband as a diplomatic pawn.
"Enough is enough. My husband has paid a terrible price for serving his country and community," said Judy Gross, in a statement released on the fifth anniversary of his jailing.
"Alan is resolved that he will not endure another year imprisoned in Cuba, and I am afraid that we are at the end," she said.