On Friday, October 7, René González will become the first member of the Cuban Five to be released from an American prison. In 2001, the Five were convicted in Miami of spying for Cuba. Cuba insists they were—justifiably—trying to prevent anti-Castro exiles from launching terrorist attacks against their homeland. The Five have since become heroes in Cuba, and their case has sparked international controversy—as has González’s pending release. Last week, the same Florida judge who originally sentenced him decided González must remain in the United States during his parole rather than granting his request to return home to his family in Havana. Why?
On the eve of René González’s release Friday from an American prison—but not his prison America will now become—it’s worth reminding ourselves what terrible crimes he committed.
Why was he sentenced to 15 years in jail? And why do American officials now insist he serve his post-prison parole in The United States instead of in Cuba?
In 1998, González—a member of the Cuban Five spy ring— was charged with failing to formally register as an agent of a foreign government.
Guilty as charged.
In December 1990, González “stole” a small plane from a Havana airfield and “defected” to Florida. Not surprisingly, he didn’t tell authorities he was a Cuban intelligence agent whose mission was to infiltrate militant Miami exile groups.
The reason he didn’t—the reason he’d been sent to Florida in the first place—was that U.S. authorities rarely charged Cuban exiles, even those clearly violating American Neutrality Act prohibitions against launching armed attacks on another country from U.S. soil.
Cuba certainly isn’t the only country to dispatch clandestine agents to other countries in order to protect its homeland from attack. Consider… well how about post-9/11 America? How many American agents are currently operating secretly inside Pakistan because the U.S. government believes Pakistan is unable or unwilling to deal with terrorist threats there? How many of those agents registered with Pakistani authorities?
It’s also worth noting how the U.S. has dealt with other unregistered foreign agents. Last year, 10 Russians pled guilty to being long-term Moscow agents inside the United States. Instead of sending them to prison, Americans authorities sent them home in a swap for four foreign nationals the Russians had convicted of spying on them.
The Cold War was over. Except, of course, when that hot-cold war involved Cuba. Welcome to America’s war on terrorism (fighters).
In addition to feloniously failing to tell American authorities he was not an anti-Castro “freedom fighter,” René González also stood accused of… “general conspiracy”?
Despite thousands of seized documents and two years’ of pre-arrest surveillance, prosecutors couldn’t produce a shred of evidence González had ever stolen—or tried to steal, or even thought about stealing—any of America’s state secrets.
So they charged him with… general conspiracy. Which apparently means if they can’t arrest you for what you’re doing, they’ll get you for what you’re thinking… or what they think you’re thinking.
What did González really do?
While researching a book on the Five, I spent months poring over 20,000+ pages of their trial transcript and other evidence.
Here’s what the record shows René González did.
He infiltrated—and reported back to Havana on—a militant Cuban exile organization called Partido Unidad Nacional Democracia, or PUND.
PUND trained in Florida for armed attacks against Cuba. They did so openly. In 1995, the FBI questioned members of the group in connection with one plot—but released them without charges.
González also infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, a supposedly humanitarian group that boasted of illegal incursions into Cuban air space. Thanks to González and other agents, Havana learned:
• Brothers’ founder José Basulto inquired about purchasing a used Czech fighter jet;
• Exile militants wanted to use a Brothers’ planes for a mid-air attack on an aircraft carrying Fidel Castro to the United Nations;
• Brothers to the Rescue members test-fired anti-personnel weapons for possible use in Cuba.
And González infiltrated another supposedly peaceful group— Movimiento Democracia—whose members openly violated Cuban territorial waters.
During his time as an agent in Florida, González even served briefly as an FBI informant. A PUND member had enlisted him to ferry cocaine from Puerto Rico to Florida to raise money to buy more weapons to attack Cuba. González tipped off the FBI.
Based on the evidence, that is the sum of René González’s “general conspiracy.”
U.S. prosecutors were so unsure of their conspiracy case they offered González ever sweeter—and more sour—inducements to cop a plea before his trial.
At one point, they dangled the carrot of avoiding trial by pleading guilty to a single count of being an unregistered agent. But “the last paragraph of the plea agreement draft,” González recalls, included “a not-so-veiled invitation to consider my wife’s resident status is at stake.”
González drew a middle finger in the space left for his signature.
The next day, August 16, 2000, immigration officials arrested his wife. In one final effort to change his mind, they brought her—now dressed in orange prison jumpsuit—to visit him in jail. When he didn’t relent, they deported her. He has not been allowed to see her since..
René González has now done his time. He’s been in jail since his arrest in 1998. He spent his first 17 months in solitary confinement. He has been, by all accounts, a model prisoner. He’s studied economics, taken up running, even completed a few half-marathons in his medium security prison. As required by Florida law, he will have served 85 per cent of his sentence inside prison before being paroled.
Now he wants to go home to Havana to see his family.
There’s no public benefit to forcing him to serve his parole in hostile Florida. He is not about to be “reintegrated” into American society, and he could be in physical danger from vengeful exiles. Still U.S. prosecutors opposed his application. The same judge who originally sentenced him sided with prosecutors.
The issue is that González continues to defend what he did.
“I have no reason to be remorseful,” González told his original sentencing hearing. He condemned the hypocrisy of the American justice system for charging him and his fellow defendants for the non-crime of trying to protect their country from terrorist attack while ignoring the real crimes of exile terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch who stood accused of the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight that killed 73 people, and a string of 1997 attacks on Cuban tourist hotels that killed a Canadian.
So on Friday René González will be released from his physical prison but only into another, psychic one.
Welcome to America’s continuing war on terrorism (fighters)…. Continued.
Stephen Kimber is a Canadian journalist who’s writing a book on the case of the Cuban Five.