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U.S. to release Cuban spy, but tensions with Havana remain

October 3, 2011 |  8:25 am

Cuban_five

A convicted pro-Castro spy considered a hero in Havana will be released from a U.S. prison Friday -- but don't expect the news to improve the ongoing frosty relations between the U.S. and the island nation.

The prisoner, Rene Gonzalez, is one of the so-called Cuban Five, a group of men arrested by the FBI in Miami in 1998 and convicted of spying on anti-Castro groups in Florida and conspiring to obtain U.S. military secrets. He is the first of the five to be released from prison.

A federal judge is insisting that Gonzalez, after 13 years of imprisonment, remain in the United States for his three-year probationary period, the Miami Herald reported Saturday.

That has incensed leaders in Cuba, where the five men are exalted as high-profile national heroes who were unjustly convicted after collecting intelligence on "terrorist" exile groups that were scheming to undermine Cuba's communist government.

Former President Fidel Castro called the judge's decision "brutal," according to the Herald:

"This is how the empire responds to the increasing demand around the world for their freedom," Castro reportedly wrote. "If it weren't so, the empire would cease to be an empire and Obama would cease to be stupid."

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the five men, who claimed they couldn't get a fair trial in Miami, a hotbed of anti-communist sentiment.

The incident will be one more hurdle for the famously antagonistic countries to overcome if they are to normalize relations anytime soon. In an online forum last month, President Obama said he had tried to show the Cubans the U.S. was open to a "new relationship," the Herald's Erika Bolstad reported in a blog post.

Despite modifying remittance laws to make it easier for U.S.-based families to support their Cuban relatives -- a move Obama hoped would create an "economic space" for the country -- the president said Cuba had not experienced "the kind of genuine spirit of transformation" that would justify ending the decades-old U.S. embargo of the country.

RELATED:

Case appears closed on 'Cuban Five'

10 accused of espionage in Cuban spy ring

-- Richard Fausset

Photo: Leftist marchers in Beirut last month carry portraits and call for the release of five Cubans who were arrested on espionage charges in Florida in 1998. Credit: Wael Hamzeh / European Pressphoto Agency

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