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People walk beside the Carlos J. Finlay Military Hospital where U.S. government contract worker Alan Gross is held prisoner in Havana (Reuters / Desmond Boylan)

Cuba has exchanged American citizen Alan Gross for three Cubans jailed in the United States. The prisoner swap is set to pave the way for a major overhaul of bilateral ties, potentially bringing an end to over five decades of severed diplomatic relations.

US officials said Gross was transported on a government plane Wednesday morning after being released on humanitarian grounds, which followed a request from the White House. Gross, who had been imprisoned for five years, was viewed as a stumbling block towards improving relations between Havana and Washington.

US President Barack Obama is scheduled make a statement at 1700 GMT on Cuba, the White House said. Obama is expected to announce a shift in Washington’s Cuban policy. Cuban President Raul Castro, in turn, is scheduled to address his nation at the same time regarding his country’s relationship with the United States.

According to US officials, Washington will begin talks on normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba and opening an embassy in the country, AP reports. The embassy could be opened within months, the officials said. Cuba will also open an embassy in Washington DC.

Republican Senator Mark Rubio, a 2016 presidential hopeful from the state of Florida, also said the agreement further includes normalizing banking and trade ties with Cuba. According to Dow Jones, that will include allowing US debit and credit cards to be used on the island nation. Cuba will also release 53 political prisoners as a response to Obama’s policy shift.

Read more at RT News

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