Friday, February 28, 2014

Second member of Cuban Five spy ring freed from U.S. prison

Posted on Thursday, 02.27.14

Second member of Cuban Five spy ring freed from U.S. prison

A second member of the "Cuban Five," the Castro-directed spy ring that
infiltrated South Florida military installations and the exile community
in the wake of the Cold War, was released from federal prison Thursday
and was expected to be deported soon to Cuba.

Fernando Gonzalez, 50, was convicted for acting as an illegal Cuban
agent at a 2001 espionage trial of the five men in Miami. He and the
others are considered "heroes" in Cuba, which is planning festivities to
honor them this weekend.

The highly controversial case strained already poor U.S.-Cuba relations
not only because the five Castro agents infiltrated South Florida, but
also because they were linked to the Cuban government's 1996 shoot-down
of two Brothers to the Rescue planes that killed four exile pilots over
the Florida Straits.

Gonzalez, who was serving an 18-year sentence, was released from an
Arizona federal prison early Thursday after more than 15 years behind
bars because of time off his term for good behavior and other factors.

Gonzalez, known to U.S. authorities by his alias, Ruben Campa, is the
second member of the Cuban Five to be released from prison. Rene
Gonzalez, who is not related to Fernando Gonzalez, finished his prison
sentence in 2011 but spent more than a year on probation in the U.S.
until a federal judge allowed him to return to Cuba. Rene Gonzalez, a
Chicago native with dual U.S.-Cuban citizenship, renounced his U.S.
citizenship after returning to Havana.

"This is slightly different because [Fernando] Gonzalez is not a U.S.
citizen," said Maggie Khuly, sister of one of the Brothers to the Rescue
shoot-down victims, Armando Alejandre Jr. "I would imagine Cuba will
welcome him with open arms."

Fernando Gonzalez was turned over immediately to the custody of
immigration officials, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement
spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez. For security reasons, she said she could
not disclose exactly where he was being held or when he would be
returned to Cuba, but a deportation order has already been issued.

Fernando Gonzalez was part of a 14-person "Wasp Network" sent by
then-Cuban President Fidel Castro to spy on South Florida. They were
indicted in 1998 on charges of conspiracy, espionage and failure to
register as foreign agents in the United States. Five of the original
defendants pleaded guilty following the FBI investigation and were
deported. Four others were fugitives.

The other remaining defendants, who came to be known as the Cuban Five,
faced trial and were convicted.

Trial testimony showed they sought to infiltrate the headquarters of the
U.S. Southern Command and military installations in the Florida Keys.
They also reported on Cuban exiles and politicians opposed to the
communist government in Havana, prosecutors said.

Havana maintained that the agents posed no threat to the U.S. government
and were only monitoring militant exiles to prevent terrorist attacks in
Cuba. The most notorious of those was a series of bombings of Havana
hotels that killed an Italian tourist in 1997.

In response to Gonzalez's release, Cuba plans a concert Saturday night
at the University of Havana in honor of the five men.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma published interviews Thursday with
two of Gonzalez's friends back home. Rafael Hojas said he and Gonzalez
knew each other as young students and crossed paths on international
missions in Africa.

"I hope he spends as little time as possible in an immigration jail and
can enjoy as soon as possible his mother, his wife, his family, and
we'll see when we might be able to meet," Hojas was quoted as saying.

Gonzalez's mother, Magali Llort, told The Associated Press that she
sometimes thinks her son's release is a dream "but luckily it's a great

"But we can't feel satisfied with Fernando arriving and Rene having
come," she said. "We have to keep up the fight so that the rest, their
brothers, are here."

The Cuban Five have sometimes been linked to the case of American Alan
Gross, who has spent four years in a Cuban prison after he was arrested
while working covertly to set up Internet access for the island's Jewish
community. He was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for
International Development, which Cuba considers bent on undermining its

Cuba has suggested it might swap Gross for the Cuban Five, but
Washington has rejected any such deal.

Khuly, who has been an unofficial spokeswoman for the shoot-down
victims' families, said they would oppose any exchange of the remaining
three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States.

"Our main concern is that Gerardo Hernandez stay in the United States
and that there be no exchange involving him," Khuly told The Miami
Herald Thursday. "The other two are also of concern."

Hernandez is serving a life prison sentence on a murder-conspiracy
conviction for his role in the 1996 killings of the four Brothers to the
Rescue pilots. For years, the organization had dropped pro-democracy
leaflets over Cuba and assisted Cuban migrants trying to reach the
United States.

Khuly said the only exchange that the victims' families would consider
would be for the two Cuban Air Force pilots who shot down the Brothers
to the Rescue planes over international waters and for the Cuban general
who gave the order. They have been indicted in Miami federal court.

Fernando Gonzalez was originally sentenced to 19 years. But a Miami
federal judge reduced that by one year after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals said he was wrongly labeled a supervisor of other spies.

Two other men sentenced to life on espionage conspiracy convictions also
had their terms lowered as a result of that same court order. U.S.
District Judge Joan Lenard reduced Antonio Guerrero's sentence to 22
years and Ramon Labanino's to 30 years in prison.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: Second member of Cuban Five spy ring freed from U.S. prison -
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