Cuban agent released from U.S. prison gets hero's welcome
BY DANIEL TROTTA
HAVANA Fri Feb 28, 2014 3:04pm EST
(Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro and top leaders of the Cuban
government and Communist Party greeted a Cuban intelligence agent with a
hero's welcome upon his return to Havana on Friday, a day after his
release from a U.S. prison.
Fernando Gonzalez, 50, had served more than 15 years for spying on
Cuban-American exile groups in Miami and is one of the "Cuban Five"
whose detentions have complicated the already tense relations between
the United States and Cuba.
The United States deported him on Friday, and he told reporters he was
still in handcuffs until the plane touched down at the Havana airport.
Three of the original five remain in prison in the United States, and
all are treated as heroes in Cuba, where their cases are considered
emblematic of U.S. hostility toward its neighbor 90 miles away.
Cuba has suggested it would like to swap its agents for U.S. contractor
Alan Gross, an American sentenced to 15 years in Cuba for setting up an
illegal communications network. So far the United States has refused to
make such a trade.
Cuban state television showed Castro, dressed in his trademark military
fatigues, embracing Gonzalez inside the Havana airport. Other top
military, party and government officials also hugged Gonzalez, looking
very much like pictures taken of him before his arrest with a mustache
and short hair.
Gonzalez's mother, Magali Llort, was also present.
"I feel an immense happiness and at the same time something is missing,
and it will remain that way until Ramon (Labanino), Gerardo (Hernandez)
and Tony (Guerrero) are here in this same place," Gonzalez told Cuban
journalists at the airport, referring to the three other agents still in
"I didn't experience the sensation of freedom upon leaving prison. I
felt it when I stepped down off the plane, because I was handcuffed in
the plane until the last minute and they took the handcuffs off me when
the plane touched ground," Gonzalez said.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested all five in
1998. All were convicted in 2001 of 26 counts of spying on behalf of the
government of Fidel Castro, who has since ceded power to his brother Raul.
Gonzalez received a 19-year sentence, which was reduced on appeal in
2008 for good behavior. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons on Thursday turned
him over to immigration officials for deportation, U.S. officials said.
The group, called La Red Avispa or the Wasp Network, infiltrated
Miami-based activist group Brothers to the Rescue and attempted to spy
on U.S. military installations, relaying coded messages back to Havana,
albeit with little success.
Another agent, Rene Gonzalez, was released in 2011 and returned to Cuba
after serving more than 13 years.
One of the three remaining agents, Hernandez, is serving a double life
sentence for his involvement in shooting down two small Brothers to the
Rescue planes off the Cuba coast in 1996.
Guerrero is due for release in September 2017 and Labanino is due to be
released in October 2024.
The agents' case exacerbated already hostile U.S.-Cuba relations and
gained greater attention after the arrest of Gross in 2009. Gross was
sentenced to 15 years for what Cuba said was his role in a U.S.
government effort to set up an underground Internet network on the
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Rosa Tania Vales; Editing by David Gregorio)
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