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Freed Cuban agents given heroes' welcomes as they land

Thee Cuban intelligence agents have been given heroes' welcomes as they landed back in their homeland after 16 years in prison in the US.

The men were given heroes' welcomes as they landed back in Cuba after 16 years Credit: Reuters

The men were released as part of a prisoner swap between the two countries, which heralded the start of a major policy shift to normalise relations after more than 50 years of hostility.

Gerardo Hernandez, aged 49, Antonio Guerrero, 56, and 51-year-old Ramon LabaƱino were greeted by Cuban President Raul Castro and throngs of family, friends and fans as they disembarked at Jose Marti International Airport.

Gerardo Hernandez greets his wife Adriana Perez O'Connor at the airport Credit: Reuters

The men - together with two others already released - are jointly referred to as the 'Cuban Five', and are celebrated as anti-terrorist heroes for their work spying on extremist Cuban exile groups in Florida.

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Republicans claim Cuba move shows 'retreat of US values'

Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain. Credit: Reuters

Two of the leading Republican voices on U.S. foreign policy have denounced President Barack Obama's plans to ease U.S. restrictions on Cuba.

Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham claimed the move showed "America and the values it stands for in retreat and decline."

"It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America's influence in the world," the pair said in a statement.

Freed aid worker Alan Gross 'very happy' at Obama move

Alan Gross speaking after his release today. Credit: Reuters

Freed aid worker Alan Gross said on Wednesday he was "very happy" to hear about the thaw in relations between the US and Cuba.

Speaking to the media after his release from Cuba, he thanked U.S. President Barack Obama for all he had done to secure his release and said he did not blame the Cuban people for his ordeal.

"Two wrongs never make a right. I truly hope that we can all get beyond these mutually belligerent policies and I was very happy to hear what the president had to say today," Gross said.

An astonishing shift in US-Cuban relations

President Obama has announced a historic change in relations between the US and Cuba, ending 50 years of virtual separation between the two states.

But the move was met with hostility from some of his Republican opponents, who accused Mr Obama of rewarding a regime that suppresses its own population.

ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore reports.

Pope Francis congratulates US and Cuba on agreement

Pope Francis welcomed the move towards normalising US-Cuban relations. Credit: Reuters

Pope Francis has congratulated the United States and Cuba on their decision to establish diplomatic relations, and the Vatican said it was ready to support the strengthening of bilateral relations.

In a statement, the Vatican also confirmed that its diplomats facilitated talks between the two countries, "resulting in solutions acceptable to both parties."

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Three Cuban agents return home after 16 years in jail

Cuba's president Raul Castro. Credit: Reuters

Three Cuban intelligence agents who had served 16 years in U.S. jails have returned to Cuba.

They were released as part of a prisoner exchange in which Cuba freed an American foreign aid worker who had served five years in a Cuban prison, President Raul Castro said.

Castro said he spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama by telephone on Tuesday ahead of the announcement that the United States would be moving to normalise relations between the two countries.

Obama: Cuba move 'most significant change in 50 years'

President Obama says today's announcement of moves to normalise US relations with Cuba is "the most significant change" in policy in over 50 years.

He said the "outdated" approach of cutting Cuba off from the US had not delivered for either country.

Among the moves will be the re-establishment of a US embassy in the Cuban capital, Havana.

Vatican involved in negotiations over US prisoner

The Vatican had a significant role in negotiations to release US prisoner Alan Gross from Cuba, according to a US Senator.

Dick Durbin, who represents the state of Illinois, has campaigned for Mr Gross' release and said he was "overjoyed" by the news.

But there were already quick objections to the news from some U.S. lawmakers.

Robert Menendez, the current head of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, denounced President Barack Obama's actions on Cuba, saying they "vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government."

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