US lets ‘spy’ serve probation in Cuba

In a sharp reversal of its previous policy, the US government has decided to let René González, one of five Cuban men convicted of espionage in 2001, serve out the remainder of his probation in Cuba. González, a US citizen of Cuban origin, was released in October 2011 after spending 13 years in prison, but US officials initially turned down his request to serve his remaining three years’ probation in Cuba. In 2012 the US let him visit the island for two weeks to see his brother, who was ill, and in April this year he was allowed another visit to attend the funeral of his father, who died on April 1. On May 3 US district judge in Miami Joan Lenard granted González’s request to stay in Cuba; she said the US Justice Department now had no objection to the arrangement. Apparently the only condition was that he would need to renounce his US citizenship.

Widely known as the “Cuban Five,” the men admitted they were Cuban agents but insisted that they were monitoring terrorist activities by rightwing Cubans based in Florida, not spying on the US. The Cuban government says the five men are heroes, and many US progressives have worked over the years for their release. The other four agents received longer prison sentences than González and remain in US prisons. Last year the Cuban government offered to negotiate the possible release of US citizen Alan Gross, who is now serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba for his work there with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), in connection with the release of the Cuban Five. At the time the US rejected the idea of linking the two cases. (New York Times, May 3; La Jornada, Mexico, May 4, from DPA, AFP)

The decision on René González was one of three seemingly contradictory signals from the US government over a two-day period. On May 2 the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) exploited the US designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” during a press conference announcing that Cuban resident Assata Shakur was now the first woman on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list. Former Black Panther Party member Shakur, then known as Joanne Chesimard, was convicted in New Jersey in 1977 for the 1973 killing of a state trooper. Shakur, who insists she was wrongfully convicted, escaped prison in 1979 and has been living in Cuba since 1984.

One day later, on May 3, the US government outraged right-wing Cuban Americans by allowing Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban president Raúl Castro, to visit the Liberty Bell, a US national symbol, in Philadelphia. Castro, the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), was in Philadelphia to receive an award from the Equality Forum at the LGBT rights organization’s annual conference, held from May 2 to May 5. The US State Department had delayed granting Castro a visa to attend the conference until April 29. (The Lede, NYT blog, May 3; LJ, May 4, from DPA)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 5.