Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rene Gonzalez eyes fellow agent's US release

Cuba: Rene Gonzalez eyes fellow agent's US release
February 19
Associated Press
HAVANA — When Fernando Gonzalez walks out of an Arizona prison next
week, the "Cuban Five" will be down to three.

Intelligence agents in the employ of Fidel Castro's Cuba, they were
arrested in the United States in 1998 and given terms ranging from 15
years to consecutive life sentences on charges including conspiracy and
failure to register as foreign agents. A federal appeals court upheld
their convictions but voided three of their sentences, including
Gonzalez's, after finding they had gathered no "top secret" information.

Rene Gonzalez, no relation, was the first of the Cuban Five to go free
in 2011. He was ordered to remain in the United States for more than a
year after release. But U.S. officials say Fernando Gonzalez will be
immediately handed to immigration authorities upon his release for the
start of deportation proceedings.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rene Gonzalez said he hopes
his comrade will soon join him in his new role as the public face of
Cuba's campaign to demand the other agents' release.

"I don't know how he will feel when he comes. Probably he'll need some
rest, but I hope to see him at my side in this battle," Gonzalez said on
a recent morning in Havana, clad in a smart striped shirt and black
pants. "I think he will be a good reinforcement."

Rene Gonzalez was an unknown young pilot in 1990 when he pretended to
steal a crop duster and flew to Florida, using cover as a Cuban defector
to spy on targets in the United States.

Rene and Fernando Gonzalez, along with the others, were convicted in
2001 of being part of a ring known as the "Wasp Network," given the job
by Cuba's government of spying on U.S. military installations in South
Florida, Cuban exile groups and politicians opposed to Castro's government.

Havana maintains the agents posed no threat to U.S. sovereignty and were
only monitoring militant exiles to prevent terror attacks in Cuba, the
best known of which was a series of bombings of Havana hotels that
killed an Italian tourist in 1997.

In 2013, Rene Gonzalez finally returned to his country of allegiance, if
not birth, when a U.S. judge allowed him to renounce his American
citizenship and cut short three years' supervised release.

He is no longer just an anonymous husband and father of two. His and the
other agents' faces grace billboards across Cuba, where they are
lionized as heroes for their clandestine monitoring of militant
anti-Castro exiles.

"Now everyone recognizes me in the street," Gonzalez said.

He has spent the last nine months or so living a relatively quiet
existence, readjusting to family life with his wife, Olga Salanueva, and
their teenage daughter, Ivette, in a small apartment in central Havana.
Their other daughter, Irma, has grown up, married and has a child of her

But at a Latin American and Caribbean regional summit last month,
Gonzalez was firmly in the spotlight talking to visiting foreign media
and arguing Cuba's case to "free the Five."

Despite being locked up during the years when the Internet came of age,
he opened a Twitter account this month that he uses mostly to talk up
the campaign in both English and Spanish. On Valentine's Day he tweeted
a photo of him and his wife grinning broadly: "And (hashtag)love
overcame hatred. They will never destroy the capacity for love of the 5."

"I'm a neophyte at this," Gonzalez told the AP.

He was born in 1956 in Chicago to Cuban emigres who were sympathetic to
Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution and returned to the island in the 1960s.
In the decades that followed, Soviet aid allowed Cuba to subsidize food,
services, education and health care.

But the island's socialist economy went into a tailspin that lasted for
years with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today, the orthodox Marxist Cuba that Gonzalez left has undergone
significant change, even if the Communist Party is the only one allowed
and there's still little tolerance for open dissent.

Fidel Castro, 87, is retired and largely out of the public eye. Younger
brother Raul Castro has embarked on a plan to remake the country's model
by permitting some private economic activity, though key sectors remain
firmly in the hands of the state.

"It's a different country, but it's also a different world," Gonzalez
said. "We have had to make concessions to the market that I don't like,
above all in conditions that create certain inequalities among people
that make the most vulnerable live in a precarious state we didn't know

Still, "I think it's an interesting process," he said.

One thing that remains the same is the frosty relationship between
Havana and Washington. In addition to the Cuban agents still behind
bars, a major sticking point is Cuba's imprisonment of a U.S. government
development subcontractor.

Alan Gross is serving a 15-year sentence for crimes against the state
after he was caught bringing sensitive communications equipment into the

Gonzalez said he would be happy to meet Gross' wife, Judy, the next time
she comes to see husband behind bars.

"If she visits me I would receive her amiably," he said.

Gonzalez even has some good memories of the United States, though he
takes a dim view of its political system and of those in Florida's Cuban
exile community who call him a traitor and a spy.

"I like the people, the people in Miami, with the exception of that
segment that has poisoned the politics of the city," Gonzalez said. "The
regular people are kind. In Miami I enjoyed the Latin American cultural
diversity, and I miss that, too."

Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter:

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