Latin America & Caribbean

Freed Cuban spy Fernando Gonzalez gets hero's welcome

Fernando Gonzalez arrives at Havana airport (28 February 2014) Image copyright AP
Image caption Fernando Gonzalez stands surrounded by his wife (2nd left) and relatives at Havana airport

A Cuban spy released from US jail after serving a 15-year sentence has received a hero's welcome on his return home.

Fernando Gonzalez landed on Friday in the capital, Havana, where he was greeted by Cuban President Raul Castro.

State TV interrupted its programming to announce the arrival of "the hero".

Gonzalez is the second of a group of agents known as the Cuban Five to be freed. They were convicted in 2001 on charges including conspiracy.

Prosecutors said the five had sought to infiltrate US military bases and spied on Cuban exiles in Florida.

'Unjust sentence'

"The hero of the Republic of Cuba and anti-terrorist fighter, Fernando Gonzalez, arrived in our country after completing a long and unjust sentence," state TV announced in a special broadcast on Friday.

The channel showed President Castro saluting Gonzalez at the Havana airport before giving him a long hug. Gonzalez's wife and mother were also present.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Fernando Gonzalez returned to Havana on Friday after spending more than 15 years in a US jail
Image copyright AP
Image caption He embraced his mother, Magali Llort, before being welcomed by President Raul Castro

In brief remarks to the press, the freed spy thanked Cubans for their support and expressed gratitude for his return.

"It's a happiness that is difficult to describe," he said, adding that "a piece is still missing", referring to the three Cuban agents who remain in US prison.

Since their conviction, the men have been at the centre of a vociferous campaign by the Cuban government to free them.

Fernando Gonzalez, 54, was arrested in 1998 along with Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero and Rene Gonzalez.

Cuba has always maintained they posed no threat to the United States as they were only monitoring anti-communist exiles in Florida with the aim of preventing attacks by exiles on the communist-run island.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The agent was released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Safford, Arizona
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Cuban government has been fervently campaigning for the release of the Cuban Five

Fernando Gonzalez was originally sentenced to 19 years but his jail term was later reduced. At the time of his release in the early hours of Wednesday he had served more than 15 years in prison.

He is the second of the group to be freed after the release in 2011 of Renee Gonzalez, who has been campaigning for the release of his fellow detainees since his return to Cuba.

Antonio Guerrero is set to be released in September 2017, while Labanino's release is due in October 2024.

Hernandez, the third of the group still in prison, is serving a double life sentence as he was also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder over the shooting down in 1996 of two planes flown by a Cuban exile group, Brothers to the Rescue.

The case of the Cuban Five has long been a source of tension between the US and Cuba.

More on this story