Olga Salaneuva, Rene Gonzalez and Tom Hayden at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, June 7, 2013.
Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban 5 serving long prison terms for their surveillance of violent anti-Castro exiles in Miami, is home in Havana after 13 years in American prisons and 18 months probation in Miami. On the recommendation of the White House and Justice Department, Gonzalez was released in Havana to serve 18 months of further probation and remain there permanently. A Chicago native, Gonzalez was required to renounce his US citizenship as part of the settlement.
Right-wing Cuban Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami) denounced the US decision as a “threat” to US national security. But Ricardo Alarcon, former president of Cuba’s National Assembly, declared with a smile that Gonzalez would be kept under “close supervision” as he lives out his remaining 18 months of probation.
Gonzalez seemed full of energy during an interview at the Hotel Nacional last Friday. He will devote all his time to advocating the release of his “four brothers” still behind bars in American prisons, especially focusing on outreach to American public opinion. “If the American people had any idea about this case, they would reject it as a complete travesty against the US constitution and rule of law,” he said.
The Five’s mission was entirely to prevent illegal terrorist attacks on Cuba emanating from right-wing exiles in Florida, not spying on the United States. The US mainstream media has devoted scant attention to the release and return of Gonzalez, who was reuinted with his wife Olga Salaneuva, and the couple’s two daughters in April.
Before accepting his mission in the US, Gonzalez served in the Cuban military during the 1977-79 war in Angola against Portuguese colonialism and South African apartheid.
Ricardo Alarcon, Rene Gonzalez and Tom Hayden at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, June 7, 2013.
Rumors and speculation are rife in Washington that Gonzalez’ release is an opening for further releases and a possible future exchange for Alan Gross, a US AID contractor serving a 15 year sentence in Cuba for illegally smuggling high-tech communications devices to dissident groups. Cuban officials have declared there can be no normalization of relations with a country holding five – now four – of its citizens as “terrorists” serving terms ranging from fifteen years to double-life sentences.
Gonzalez said he knows of no decisions on further releases or swaps, but believes that the US was forced to act in his particular case. If he had served his remaining 18 months of probation in Miami, he would be released as a free US citizen sometime next year, with full First Amendment protections to go on speaking tours for the Five, testify in Washington, or sue for damages in US courts. To avoid those headaches, some say, US officials decided it was more prudent to send him to Cuba.
What is clear so far is that after 13 years of confinement in high-security US prisons, including nearly two years in the solitary “hole,” Gonzalez will be going on a speaking tour across Cuba and free to travel and speak in support of the ongoing Cuban 5 campaign.