Published September 12, 2011
MIAMI – A former Cuban intelligence officer convicted of spying in the
U.S. wants to return immediately to Cuba upon his release from prison
next month, but federal prosecutors insist he must serve an additional
three years of probation in this country.
Phil Horowitz, attorney for 55-year-old Rene Gonzalez, said Monday he
has asked U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard on humanitarian grounds to
permit the probation to be served in Cuba. Horowitz noted that
Gonzalez's wife cannot get a visa to visit him in the U.S. — she was
also implicated in the spy ring — and that his two children and parents
also live in Cuba.
"It's our view that's an additional three years of punishment," Horowitz
said. "He has no relatives, no close family in the United States."
Gonzalez, who holds dual U.S.-Cuban citizenship, is set for release Oct.
7 from a federal prison in Marianna, Fla. He has been in custody since
the men were arrested 13 years ago Monday.
Prosecutors say there is no legal justification for Gonzalez to return
before the three years' probation is completed. In court papers, they
contend that Gonzalez was unrepentant regarding the actions that landed
him in prison and a return to Cuba would put him beyond any U.S.
"The modification he seeks is essentially to terminate and eliminate
supervised release before it has begun," said Assistant U.S. Attorney
Caroline Heck Miller in court documents. She added that Gonzalez could
later request permission to visit Cuba.
There is no timetable for Lenard to make a decision.
Horowitz said Gonzalez's mother in Cuba has expressed concern that he
might be in danger if forced to serve out probation in the Miami area,
home to thousands of Cuban exiles who are virulently opposed to the
communist government of Raul and Fidel Castro.
"I would hope that society is more mature than that," Horowitz said.
Gonzalez and the other four men known as the "Cuban Five" were convicted
in 2001 of attempting to infiltrate U.S. military installations in South
Florida, such as the Miami-based Southern Command headquarters. They
also monitored the Miami exiles and tried to place operatives inside the
campaigns of anti-Castro politicians.
One of the five was also convicted of murder conspiracy in the 1996
shootdown by Cuban fighter jets of planes flown by the "Brothers to the
Rescue" organization, which dropped pro-democracy leaflets in Cuba and
helped Cuban migrants seeking to reach U.S. shores.
All five are hailed as heroes in Cuba.
The other four are still appealing their convictions, most recently on
grounds that the U.S. paid thousands of dollars to key journalists while
the high-profile trial was ongoing. The journalists were paid for
appearances on U.S. radio and TV broadcasts to Cuba, even as they
continued to do stories for independent media outlets.
"It's an idea that really seems to be the antithesis to the concept of a
fair trial," said William Norris, who represents Ramon Labanino. "To
pour gasoline on the fire with a propaganda campaign exceeds the concept
of due process."
The attorneys have asked Lenard to set a hearing on whether the
journalist payments and other evidence warrant a new trial. The judge
has not indicated when she might rule.