MIAMI – A former Cuban intelligence officer convicted of spying in the U.S. wants to return immediately to Cuba upon his release from prison next month, but federal prosecutors insist he must serve an additional three years of probation in this country.
Phil Horowitz, attorney for 55-year-old Rene Gonzalez, said Monday he has asked U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard on humanitarian grounds to permit the probation to be served in Cuba. Horowitz noted that Gonzalez's wife cannot get a visa to visit him in the U.S. — she was also implicated in the spy ring — and that his two children and parents also live in Cuba.
"It's our view that's an additional three years of punishment," Horowitz said. "He has no relatives, no close family in the United States."
Gonzalez, who holds dual U.S.-Cuban citizenship, is set for release Oct. 7 from a federal prison in Marianna, Fla. He has been in custody since the men were arrested 13 years ago Monday.
Prosecutors say there is no legal justification for Gonzalez to return before the three years' probation is completed. In court papers, they contend that Gonzalez was unrepentant regarding the actions that landed him in prison and a return to Cuba would put him beyond any U.S. supervision.
"The modification he seeks is essentially to terminate and eliminate supervised release before it has begun," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller in court documents. She added that Gonzalez could later request permission to visit Cuba.
There is no timetable for Lenard to make a decision.
Horowitz said Gonzalez's mother in Cuba has expressed concern that he might be in danger if forced to serve out probation in the Miami area, home to thousands of Cuban exiles who are virulently opposed to the communist government of Raul and Fidel Castro.
"I would hope that society is more mature than that," Horowitz said.
Gonzalez and the other four men known as the "Cuban Five" were convicted in 2001 of attempting to infiltrate U.S. military installations in South Florida, such as the Miami-based Southern Command headquarters. They also monitored the Miami exiles and tried to place operatives inside the campaigns of anti-Castro politicians.
One of the five was also convicted of murder conspiracy in the 1996 shootdown by Cuban fighter jets of planes flown by the "Brothers to the Rescue" organization, which dropped pro-democracy leaflets in Cuba and helped Cuban migrants seeking to reach U.S. shores.
All five are hailed as heroes in Cuba.
The other four are still appealing their convictions, most recently on grounds that the U.S. paid thousands of dollars to key journalists while the high-profile trial was ongoing. The journalists were paid for appearances on U.S. radio and TV broadcasts to Cuba, even as they continued to do stories for independent media outlets.
"It's an idea that really seems to be the antithesis to the concept of a fair trial," said William Norris, who represents Ramon Labanino. "To pour gasoline on the fire with a propaganda campaign exceeds the concept of due process."
The attorneys have asked Lenard to set a hearing on whether the journalist payments and other evidence warrant a new trial. The judge has not indicated when she might rule.
Also Monday, Venezuela's top diplomat strongly condemned the convictions and sentences.
Speaking during a forum in Caracas attended by relatives of the Cubans, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro called their sentences unjust and compared the plight of the Cubans to that of Nelson Mandela, who was elected as South Africa's first black president after spending 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid fight.
"We are confronting the terrorist power of a state, its institutions, its judicial system and a ruling to punish these men for venturing to dismantle the empire's attacks against the Cuban Revolution," Maduro said, referring to the U.S. government.
Just like Mandela, Maduro said, the Cuban Five have been "kidnapped by a regime just as shameful" as the U.S. government.
Associated Press writer Christopher Toothaker contributed to this story from Caracas, Venezuela.
Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt