The Maryland man who spent five years in a Cuban prison for smuggling internet equipment for the Communist nation's tiny Jewish community will be a guest of President Obama at tomorrow night's State of the Union Address.
Alan Gross, who was freed as part of a deal restoring relations between Cuba and the United States, will get hearty applause from Members of Congress, including those who think Obama made a bad deal with the Castros.
Gross, and his wife, Judy, will be among 22 White House guests sitting with First Lady Michelle Obama in the House gallery.
Gross' imprisonment was a major obstacle to improving relations in recent years. Many Republicans, led by Sen. Mario Rubio of Florida, the son of Cubans who fled the Castro revolution, staunchly oppose Obama's opening, but it also has the support of many farm state Republicans and business leaders who want to open trade with Cuba.
Cuba released the last of the political prisoners called for in the deal with the United States, and the administration took a number of steps to lift restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba, including making it legal to bring Cuban cigars into the United States.
Formal discussions by senior diplomats are to begin this week in Havana on restoring full diplomatic relations, broken in 1961, and lifting the embargo and other measures.
Meanwhile, a delegation of Congressional Democrats, including Gross's own congressman, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, went to Cuba this week to discuss normalization of relations.