Cuban 5 member freed after 13 years

Havana: A Cuban flag flutters above Revolution Square in Havana. (AFP Photo/Adalberto Roque)
After more than 13 years behind bars, the first of the Cuban intelligence officers assigned by the media as the Cuban Five has been freed from prison. Rene Gonzalez, 55, was released this morning in Florida.

Gonzalez served 13 years in a federal prison for allegedly spying on the US military for the Cuban government. American authorities have long claimed that Gonzalez and the rest of the Cuban 5 were infiltrating US bases to gather intelligence for their native country, but the Cuban government has insisted that the men were on a mission to investigate anti-Castro exiles that were planning terrorist attacks on Cuba.

While the American media has pegged Gonzalez and his group as militant spies, in Cuba they are recognized as patriots and heroes. Upon his release this morning, Escambray out of Sancti Spirius province, Cuba called Gonzalez an “antiterrorist fighter” who was “unjustly sanctioned” in America.

Gonzalez himself has long defended the supposed crimes he was convicted of, and during his sentencing in 2001 he told a courtroom that he and he cohorts "were convicted for having committed the crime of being men of honor” and that he had no remorse for his actions.

Though the Cuban 5 were never caught with weapons, the American press sensationalized the men as terrorists during their trial. Earlier this year, Glora La Riva from the National Committee to Free the Cuban 5 told RT that recent reports have revealed that journalists covering the trial in southern Florida were even paid off by the government to cover the trial in a “negative, prejudicial and harmful way.” Following his sentencing, Gonzalez spent his first 17 months in prison in solitary confinement and went over a decade without seeing his wife.

“It is unfair to keep someone in prison for fighting terrorism,” Gonzalez told BBC during an interview last year. “I have been informing to my government on terrorist activities and all of a sudden I find myself facing a 15 year sentence! It would be crazy if it wasn't so politically charged.”

Though Gonzalez has dual citizenship, US authorities are forcing him to remain in America for the next three years while he serves probation. Though he was greeted by his children and attorney as he left the Marianna prison this morning, it could be quite a while longer until he sees his wife — she was implicated in the supposed spy network that Gonzalez was convicted of acting in and cannot come to the United States.

"He has been a model prisoner, even while suffering the indignity of being inhumanely deprived visits from his wife for more than 11 years," the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five writes in a statement. "However, the US government insists on punishing him and his family even more by requiring him to remain in Florida for the three years of his probation.”

Assistant US Attorney Caroline Heck Miller served as the chief prosecutor in the case against Gonzalez and adds that she believes that he should remain isolated from his wife as well.

"He poses a particular, long-term threat to this country,” writes Miller in court documents. She adds that sending him to Cuba would "effectively put him beyond any supervision by the court."

The other four of the Cuban Five remain incarcerated, serving sentences ranging from 15 years in prison to life behind bars.