HAVANA TIMES — Cuban agent Gerardo Hernandez, currently serving two life sentences on charges of conducting espionage in the United States, has leveled strong criticisms at members of the Avispa Network (Red Avispa) who cooperated with US federal authorities in order to reduce their sentences.
In an enthusiastic message of support for agent Rene Gonzalez, who renounced US citizenship to be able to remain in Cuba, Hernandez referred to those members of the spy network who rushed to cooperate with the US government in exchange for a pardon and “a new life.”
“He [Rene] could well have resorted to the same pretexts used by those who rushed to declare themselves guilty and cooperate with the authorities,” Hernandez stated in a message sent out from the Victorville Federal Prison in California, published by Cuba’s Granma newspaper on Friday.
Hernandez commented that Gonzalez would now become a “new standard-bearer” in the struggle to secure the release of the four agents who continue to serve long prison sentences in the United States.
This past Friday, Gonzalez announced that the US State Department had accepted his renouncement of U.S. citizenship, showing journalists the official rescission during a press conference in Havana. Gonzalez had made the official request at the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) on Monday.
“Now, I am simply a Cuban citizen, a Cuban patriot,” Gonzalez declared before journalists, convened at Havana’s International Press Center.
On May 23, Gonzalez must submit a report about his current legal situation and a certified copy of the document formalizing the loss of his citizenship before a Miami court. This will officially close the case and allow him to remain to Cuba definitively.
The leader of the Avispa Network, dismantled on September of 1998, recalled that, after years away from his family, Rene Gonzalez had finally been permitted to reunite with his wife and daughter in the United States, only four months after the birth of their second daughter, when he was arrested by the FBI.
Without the Slightest Hesitation
“What was the right thing to do? Stick to one’s principles, leave the three to fend for themselves in a foreign country, and face many long years of separation again, or negotiate, give the authorities what they wanted in exchange for a pardon and a new life? There was never even a glimmer of doubt in his mind, and he acted as he should, without the slightest hesitation,” Hernandez affirmed.
Hernandez, implicated in the conspiracy to down two small planes deployed by the organization Brothers to the Rescue (Hermanos al Rescate) in 1996, was of the opinión that Gonalez “served every day of his sentence with dignity, and walked out with his head as high as when he arrived in prison.”
Gonzalez was released from prison in October of 2011 after serving a 15-year sentence, but was forced to remain on parole in Miami owing to his status as a US citizen. A federal judge, who had given Gonzalez authorization to travel to Cuba in order to attend his father’s funeral, accepted his petition to be able to remain in Cuba, on the condition that he renounce his US citizenship.
It is estimated that the Avispa Network which operated in south Florida was made up of at least 25 agents. Of the 14 captured, 7 decided to cooperate with U.S. authorities. Salanueva and Juan Emilio Aboy, members of the network, were deported to Cuba, and least six others managed to evade the FBI crackdown.
Cuba’s propaganda campaigns repeatedly invoke the Five Heroes (the “Cuban Five“) imprisoned in the United States. A cloak of secrecy, however, has been spread over the identity of the “seven non-heroes” whose sentences were reduced and are currently in witness protection programs in the United States.
Hernadez’ comments regarding the “group of collaborators” is one of extremely few references to this issue made by Cuba’s official media. The case of former agent Edgerton Levy and his wife, double agents who, as of 1995, proved key figures in the identification and monitoring of the network by the FBI, is also passed over in silence.
Hernandez’ message, dated May 3, made no mention of the number or the names of the network’s “non-heroes”.
Hernandez celebrated Gonzalez’ decision to remain in Cuba and stated that he and the other three imprisoned agents feel slightly freer.
“Today, all of the Cuban Five feel slightly freer. A part of us walks down the streets of that island, and we can almost breath in its air, feel the warmth of its sun on our skin,” he stated.
We’re Still the Cuban Five
Hernandez also insisted that the media should not begin to speak of four imprisoned agents, but, rather, continue referring to them as the Five.
“We’re still the Cuban Five and will continue to be the Five. We must carry on with the struggle, not only for the four who remain in the United States, but also for Rene, for we know him and we know he will not be fully free until we have all returned to the homeland,” 48-year-old Hernandez concluded.
During Friday’s press conference, Gonzalez read out the message from the leader of the Avispa Network and seconded his concluding remarks.
“We’re still the Five, I won’t consider myself a free man until my four brothers, heroes Antonio, Fernando, Ramon and Gerardo, are here with us,” Gonzalez said. “I’m going to continue the struggle for our cause, wherever I am.”
Gonzalez was a guest at Cuba’s Round Table program, where he presented the documentary Screams on the Wall (Gritos en la pared), which details the struggle led by Cuba and the international solidarity movement to secure the freedom of the five imprisoned agents.
MEMBERS OF THE AVISPA NETWORK WHO COOPERATED WITH THE US GOVERNMENT
Alejandro Alonso, agent Franklin and 0-5, resident of Miami. Mission: infiltrate military bases and organizations of Cuban exiles, such as the Democracy Movement (Movimiento Democracia). Sentenced to seven years in prison.
Linda and Nilo Rodriguez (spouses), also known as “Los Juniors”, agents Judith and Manolo, respectively. Residents of Miami. Mission: spy on Homestead Air Base and Base 82 of the Air Infantry Division in Fort Bragg, North Caroline. Sentenced to seven years in prison.
Joseph and Amarylis Santos (spouses), agents Julia and Mario, respectively. Residents of Miami. Mission: infiltrating South Command computer networks. Sentenced to four years (Joseph) and three years and six months (Amarylis) in prison.
George and Marisol Gari (spouses), agents Luis and Margot, respectively. Residents of Florida. Mission: monitoring the MacDill Air Base (Tampa) and intercepting correspondence between Cuban Americans tagged by Cuban intelligence services, using Marisol’s position as a post office employee at Miami Airport. Sentenced to seven years (George) and three years and six months (Marisol) in prison.