by Jay Weaver
René González, an airplane pilot imprisoned for 13 years for spying on anti-Castro groups in Miami, will be a free man Friday -- but the first of the so-called Cuban Five agents to be released from prison won’t be going home to Cuba anytime soon.
González, a dual U.S.-Cuban citizen, must serve his three years of probation in the United States, a judge has ruled, possibly in South Florida where he and four colleagues were found guilty of conspiring to infiltrate Cuban exile groups and a U.S. military complex.
As soon as the 55-year-old González is released from a federal prison in North Florida, his lawyer said he will renew his client’s request to serve the supervised release in Cuba so he can be reunited with his wife and two daughters -- a bid that prosecutors in Miami strongly oppose.
“He has no family in the United States,” said attorney Philip Horowitz, who represented González at the Cuban Five federal trial in Miami in 2000-01. “His goal is to return home to Cuba -- home to [wife] Olga, home to [daughters] Irma and Ivette.”
“Unbelievably, [prosecutors] want René to remain in the United States to serve his three years of supervised release,” Horowitz said in a recent telephone press conference sponsored by a San Francisco-based group seeking his and the other defendants’ freedom. “Our contention is that it’s three years of additional punishment away from his family.”
Horowitz would not disclose where his client plans to live, citing safety concerns.
González and the other Cuban Five convicts are considered heros in Cuba -- in the government-run media, on billboards and murals across the island, and among everyday citizens. The men also are the subject of widespread international campaigns of support.
Cuban newspapers and airwaves continually demand the agents’ release. Former President Fidel Castro chimed in this week, calling U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard’s recent decision blocking González’s return to Cuba “brutal, blundering and expected.”
“This is how the empire responds to the increasing demand around the world for their freedom,” Castro wrote. “If it weren’t so, the empire would cease to be an empire and [President] Obama would cease to be stupid.”
The five defendants stood trial after being charged as part of a 14-member ring called La Red Avispa, the Wasp Network, at the conclusion of a major FBI counterespionage operation. Five others reached plea bargains requiring them to cooperate, and four are fugitives believed to be in Cuba.
González was convicted of conspiring and acting as a Castro agent. The spy ring’s links to the Cuban government’s 1996 shoot-down of two exile-group planes in international waters over the Florida Straits -- killing four Brothers to the Rescue members -- rendered the case all the more controversial.
The Cuban Five went to trial against the bitter backdrop of young Cuban rafter Elian González’s return to Cuba and other lingering tensions from the shoot-down incident.
González and the other four spies -- Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino and Fernando González (no relation) -- maintained a simple defense: They collaborated on a righteous mission to thwart the Miami exile community’s militant plots against Castro and his government.
González, like his convicted colleagues, remained defiant when he stood before Judge Lenard at his sentencing in December 2001. She gave him 15 years. The other men got terms ranging from 18 years to life in prison.
But a Miami Herald story noted that his speech to the judge, in a courtroom packed with opponents and supporters including his daughter Irma, had a sharper tone than the others’.
He attacked prosecutors as “hypocrites” for going after Cuban agents but not militant exiles. He also said that he enjoyed seeing the prosecutors “squirm” in court.
González was “resolutely and expressly unrepentant during and following his trial,” according to prosecutors. In recently filed court papers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller quoted his words at the sentencing to bolster their contention that he should be required to serve his probation in the United States so he can actually be “supervised” after his release from prison.
According to a court transcript, González said: “The manner in which I acted fits perfectly with the conduct described in the statutes under which I was charged. ... Thus, I don’t even have the right to ask for clemency for myself. ... I would like to believe you will understand why I have no reason to be remorseful. ... [My co-defendants] were convicted for having committed the crime of being men of honor.”
But the judge condemned his speech, saying his “personal beliefs do not justify his criminal conduct.” She also said that “the terrorist acts by others cannot excuse the wrongful or illegal acts by this defendant or any other.”
Lenard also chastised the Chicago-born González, who lived most of his early life in Cuba, for using his U.S. citizenship as a means to re-enter and live in the United States to serve a Communist regime.
“But his reclamation of that status was not for the pursuit of liberty or even the unalienable right of the pursuit of happiness,” the judge said. “His purpose in asserting his United States citizenship to re-enter and live in the United States was to serve a different master.”
Lenard sentenced González to the maximum of five years for the conspiracy conviction and the maximum of 10 years for acting as a Cuban agent unregistered in the United States. He was allowed to serve 13 of those years primarily in a medium-security federal prison in Marianna, gaining credit for good behavior and other factors.
González reclaimed his citizenship after a daring defection in a stolen Cuban crop duster in 1990. In Miami, he posed as an ardent anti-Castro activist at the same time he was on Castro’s payroll as an intelligence agent.
He joined the inner circles of and flew planes for two key exile groups -- Brothers to the Rescue and the Democracy Movement -- while reporting back to Havana on both organizations and working to cause internal dissent.
According to trial evidence, Hernández, the network’s spymaster, received encrypted radio messages from his Havana intelligence handlers directing him to warn Rene González and another agent, Juan Pablo Roque, not to fly on any Brothers to the Rescue’s missions from Feb. 24-27, 1996.
Roque returned to Cuba one day before the Feb. 24 shoot-down and was subsequently revealed to be a double agent. Hernández was the only Cuban Five member convicted of the murder conspiracy.
Brothers to the Rescue founder Jose Basulto, who was in a separate plane on the day of the deadly shoot-down, was a close friend of González’s. At the time of his sentencing, Basulto said his courtroom speech told him all he needed to know about the man he once trusted.
“I wanted to see what was inside of him, and he provided us with an X-ray of his feelings: hate and resentment,” Basulto said in 2001.
On Friday, Basulto said that González was the most ideologically driven of the Cuban Five, and that his contempt for this country probably helped him get through years of prison.
“I don’t think the guy has changed at all,” Basulto said. “He’s the same resentful person he has always been.”
As for his fate, Basulto said the “best thing” for González would be for the judge to let him go back to Cuba. “He has no place here,” he said. “I don’t think we on this side of the Florida Straits have any use for a person like him.”
González’s attorney, Horowitz, recently argued in court papers that his client should be allowed to return to Cuba to serve probation just like other foreign nationals who are deported after serving their sentences.
But Miller, the prosecutor, disagreed, saying González should not be allowed to seek modification of his probation until he is released from prison. The prosecutor also flatly opposed any changes, asserting that González could not be supervised by the U.S. probation office if he were living in Cuba.
Miller also cited a “special condition” that the judge imposed on his three-year probation: González “is prohibited from associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists, members of organizations advocating violence, and organized-crime figures are known to be or frequent.”
In September, Lenard, the judge, denied González’s request to modify his probation, saying it was “premature.” She said he can resubmit it after his release, but noted several other factors would come into play, including the nature of his offense and criminal history, among others.
The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, the San Francisco-based advocacy group, has decried Lenard’s decision. The group has posted a petition addressed to President Barack Obama on its web page to rally support for González.
“González’s wife, Olga Salanueva, has continually been denied visas to enter the U.S. to visit him in prison, and as a result the two have not seen each other since August 2000 -- more than eleven years,” the petition reads.
“The U.S. government now wants to add three more years to this punishment, something which surely qualifies as ‘cruel and unsual,’ not to mention a violation of all standards of human rights.”
30 de septiembre de 2011
René González, uno de los cinco agentes de Cuba presos en Estados Unidos por integrar una red de espionaje, saldría de una cárcel de Florida la próxima semana, tras cumplir con su condena, según afirmó hoy su abogado.
El letrado Philip R. Horowitz dijo a Efe que las autoridades penitencias planean liberar a su cliente el 7 de octubre de una prisión federal y que aún tiene pendiente un periodo de libertad supervisada.
“Como parte de su sentencia, la jueza Joan Lenard le impuso tres años de libertad supervisada o condicional. René pidió al tribunal cumplirla en Cuba con su familia porque tiene doble ciudadanía. Eso fue denegado”, informó el letrado.
Hasta el momento, Horowitz no ha suministrado información sobre los planes de González cuando sea liberado después de 13 años en prisión.
“A René se le requiere que cumpla con su libertad supervisada en Estados Unidos, pero no necesariamente en Miami”, agregó.
González, quien nació en Estados Unidos y regresó con su familia a Cuba en 1961, se encuentra en la prisión Federal Correctional Institution, en Marianna, en el norte del estado de Florida.
El agente dijo a la jueza que le permitiera regresar a Cuba en una moción presentada el 2 de febrero de este año porque carece de vínculos familiares en Estados Unidos, no posee propiedades en este país y tampoco tiene perspectiva de trabajo cuando salga de la cárcel que le permita mantenerse financieramente.
La fiscal encargada del caso, Caroline Heck Miller, se opuso arguyendo la “naturaleza grave de sus ofensas como parte de una conspiración para defraudar a Estados Unidos” y operar como un agente encubierto de un Gobierno, y su “expresada carencia de remordimiento”.
Lenard, quien presidió en su día el juicio que tuvo lugar en Miami, denegó la solicitud de González el pasado 16 de septiembre.
González y cuatro cubanos más fueron declarados culpables en 2001 de conspirar y operar como agentes extranjeros sin notificar al Gobierno estadounidense junto con otras personas que integraban la llamada “Red Avispa” de espionaje desmantelada en el sur de Florida en 1998.
Los otros cuatro son Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labaniño, Fernando González y Antonio Guerrero.
Los cinco admitieron durante el juicio que eran agentes del Gobierno cubano, pero afirmaron que espiaban a “grupos terroristas de exiliados” que conspiraban contra el entonces mandatario Fidel Castro, y no al Gobierno estadounidense.
Hernández, a quien las autoridades consideraban el líder de la red, cumple dos cadenas perpetuas, una de ellas impuesta por conspirar en el derribo de dos avionetas del grupo anticastrista “Hermanos al Rescate” de Miami, en 1996, por parte de cazas MiG cubanos, y en el que murieron cuatro pilotos.
Organizaciones que apoyan a “Los Cinco”, como se les conoce en Cuba donde son considerados por algunos como héroes, están haciendo una campaña por internet a favor del retorno de René González a Cuba.
La campaña consiste en una petición dirigida al presidente de Estados Unidos, Barack Obama, para que permita su regreso.
Cuba, por su parte, denunció el miércoles pasado que Estados Unidos cometerá una “nueva injusticia” al impedir que René González regrese a la isla caribeña.
“Aunque es imposible reparar la injusticia ya consumada tras tantos años de indebido encarcelamiento y ensañamiento político, la única acción mínimamente decorosa del Gobierno de los Estados Unidos, a estas alturas, sería la de permitir el inmediato regreso de René a Cuba”, indicó un editorial del diario oficial Granma.
Conocido por los alias “Castor” e “Iselin”, René González suministraba información a Hernández sobre las actividades de los grupos anticastristas de Miami, quien a su vez retransmitía los datos a Cuba, según documentos judiciales.