By Denver Nicks
December 17, 2014

Alan Gross, the 65-year-old American whose release from a Cuban prison was announced Wednesday, was a contractor trying to bring Internet services to Cuba.

He’s reported to be in poor health after declining medical and dental care in protest of his detention. Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2011 and charged with espionage for bringing telecommunications devices into the country while working as a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development. Accused of plotting to foment an insurrection along the lines of the Arab Spring, Gross was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

An attorney who has visited him in the small room in a Cuban military hospital where he has been kept with two other prisoners for the past five years says he is almost toothless, blind in one eye and severely addled with arthritis, ABC reports. He had declined medical attention in protest of his detention and threatened a hunger strike until death if he was not released by year’s end.

Gross’ release is seen as a first step toward thawing long-icy relations between the United States and Cuba.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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