HAVANA TIMES, October 10 — Last Friday, prison became a thing of the past for Rene Gonzalez, one of the five Cuban agents (known internationally as the Cuban Five) imprisoned in the US for the past 13 years.
However Gonzalez still can’t return to Cuba since he’s now required to spend 36 months under “supervised release” in the state of Florida.
According to the Cuban government, Rene and the rest of the agents were members of the “Wasp Network,” who were engaged in monitoring the activities of exile organizations in Miami with the aim of preventing violent actions against Cuba.
Despite having been released, the next three years could be very difficult for Gonzalez since the courts are forcing him to remain in Florida, where the majority of anti-Castro groups that he had been assigned to watch are based.
He will also have to wait that long to see his wife, Olga Salanueva, who was denied a US visa. She gave an exclusive interview to BBC Mundo this past week just before Rene’s release.
Q: Within a few hours Rene will leave the prison. How do you feel?
A: I never imagined that 13 years would go by and Rene and his companions would still be in jail, and much less that my husband would be denied the right to return to his home in Cuba. There’s very little chance I’ll be able to see him within the next three years, and that’s horrible.
Q: How long has it been since you’ve seen him?
A: Since he was arrested [in 1998]. They tried to blackmail me, but since I didn’t give in, my daughters and I were deported and they continually refused to give me a visa to visit him in prison. They say that since I was deported I’m permanently ineligible for a visa.
Q: How many times have you requested a visa?
A: I asked about ten times, until I got a categorical and unqualified refusal.
Q: What is your husband expecting now?
A: He’ll have to spend three years of “supervised release” in the southern district of the state of Florida. He has an addition to his sentence that states that he cannot get close to those places frequented by people involved in terrorism – that’s the literal wording they used in the court order. They should start by saying who the terrorists are in Miami so that Rene knows. Paradoxically, these are people who are free in the US.
What I don’t understand is why — if they’re saying he’s a dangerous person — they want him to pose a “danger” there. Wouldn’t it be easier and more understandable if he were allowed to leave that country? The lawyer asked to amend that measure and permit him to come to Cuba where his wife and children are living, but this was turned down.
Q: Is it common for a foreigner released on probation to be deported?
A: The lawyers say that if the person is from another country it’s only natural that they be allowed to leave, in fact they almost always leave.
Q: What does it mean for Rene to live in Florida now?
A: There’s tremendous hatred on the part of the extreme right in Miami against “the Cuban Five” because many of them belong to the terrorist organizations that Rene and his comrades were monitoring so as to warn Cuba of their actions. I think the US government should be concerned about the plans of these groups and the protection of Rene, who’s also a US citizen.
Q: It’s said that former Democratic governor Bill Richardson went to Cuba with the proposal to let Rene leave in exchange for the release of the American Alan Gross. What do you think of this idea?
A: It’s opportunistic. I don’t know who could have come up with something like that. Gross is just starting his sentence and my husband is a free man. We need to talk about “the Cuban Five,” particularly the case of Gerardo. He’s the one who was denied the right to leave prison alive, despite his being innocent.
Rene would never accept being exchanged, leaving his comrades in prison. He refused that 13 years ago, and much less will he accept that now.
Q: Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez recently suggested the possibility of an exchange of “the Cuban Five” for Alan Gross. What’s your view of that?
A: We would be more than thrilled to see “the Cuban Five” return home. If the cost is freeing Gross, then fine – but for “the Five.”
Q: Why do you think the State Department immediately ruled out that possibility?
A: They don’t want to exchange “The Five,” who were never charged with espionage, yet the US cut a deal to exchange self-confessed Russian spies. I think this is a punishment that shows the political foundation of the case. It’s punishment against the people of Cuba so that they never again dare monitor those terrorist groups in Miami and try to prevent attacks.