And then there were four
Oct 9th 2011, 16:55 by D.A. | MIAMI
BOTH the United States and Cuba have taken a hard line on punishing each
others' alleged spies. In March Cuba sentenced Alan Gross, an employee
of a company working for the American government, to 15 years in jail
for illegally distributing communications equipment. Mr Gross had no
ties to American intelligence services, and United States officials
called the decision "appalling". But in recent years America has been no
more forgiving of Cuban operatives working in its territory. In 2001 a
Florida court gave harsh sentences, ranging from 15 years in prison to
life, to five Cuban intelligence officers known as the "Cuban Five", who
had been spying on exile groups in Miami that opposed the government of
Fidel Castro. The verdict was a break from America's prior policy of
quietly expelling Cuban agents, and has been widely criticised as unfair
because of the allegedly biased jury pool in Miami. Cuban state
propaganda and media call the group the "Five Heroes".
Barack Obama has sought to improve relations with Cuba—though not with
its government, now led by Mr Castro's younger brother Raúl—by relaxing
restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting and sending money to the
island. Now the American courts have extended an olive branch regarding
the Cuban Five as well. On October 7th René González (pictured), a dual
American-Cuban citizen who was given the shortest sentence of the group,
was granted parole for good behaviour and released from jail.
After arriving in the United States in 1990 in an apparent defection
aboard a stolen crop duster, Mr González infiltrated Brothers to the
Rescue, an exile group that had dropped anti-Castro leaflets from planes
into Cuba. He flew a series of volunteer missions for the group. In 1996
the Cuban air force shot down two of the Brothers' planes that had
approached the island while they were still in international airspace.
Four people were killed, causing outrage in the United States.
The five agents, who had relayed information about the Brothers to the
Cuban government, were arrested two years later. They admitted they
worked for Cuba but argued that they were on a legitimate mission to
defend the island from terrorist attacks by militants in Miami. One of
them, Gerardo Hernández, was convicted of first-degree murder of the
planes' pilots and passengers, and was given two life sentences. But
prosecutors were unable to tie Mr González to the incident, leaving him
with lesser charges of conspiracy and illegally acting as a Cuban agent.
After a decade behind bars, Mr González has now been paroled. Foreigners
are usually deported to their home countries after serving their
sentences. But because Mr González is a dual citizen, he cannot be
deported. The judge who released him ruled that he must serve out the
remaining three years of his term on probation in the United States. Mr
González's lawyer says he has no family or means of support in America,
and requested that he be allowed to serve a supervised release in Cuba.
But prosecutors say it would be impossible to monitor his actions there
and have opposed the proposal. Ironically, the most vocal advocate for
his repatriation to Cuba has been José Basulto, the founder of Brothers
to the Rescue and the pilot of a third plane on the group's 1996 mission
that was not shot down. "He has no place here," Mr Basulto told the
Miami Herald. "I don't think we on this side of the Florida Straits have
any use for a person like him."
In theory Mr González's release should have helped to thaw
Cuban-American relations. But it has not placated Fidel Castro, who is
still incensed at the "brutal" decision that Mr González cannot leave
the United States. "This is how the empire responds to the increasing
demand around the world for freedom," Mr Castro wrote. "If it weren't
so, the empire would cease to be an empire and Obama would cease to be