Published March 01, 2014
President Raul Castro went to Havana's Jose Marti International Airport on Friday to greet a Cuban intelligence agent returing to the island after spending more than 15 years in a U.S. prison.
Fernando Gonzalez, one of five Cuban spies convicted by a Miami jury in 2001, was released Thursday and promptly deported.
Castro, who said he was welcoming Gonzalez in the name of "all Cuban people," gave the returning spy a military salute before embracing him.
The meeting took place in the arrivals area of the airport where members of Gonzalez's family and other senior officials were also present.
Among the group was Rene Gonzalez (no relation to Fernando), the first of the "Cuban Five" to be released from U.S. prison, in October 2011, though the Chicago native was not allowed to return to Cuba until last year.
In his first statement after landing in Cuba, Fernando Gonzalez said he was honored that Raul Castro "had taken the trouble" to come to the airport, and expressed his gratitude for the official welcome.
About his return to the island, he said it caused him "immense joy though it was missing a piece," due to the absence of the other three agents of the group who are still imprisoned in the United States.
The two Gonzalez men and their three colleagues - Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino and Antonio Guerrero - were arrested Sept. 12, 1998, and convicted three years later by a federal jury in Miami.
The Cuban Five insisted they were spying on Miami's Cuban exile community, not the U.S. government.
Cuba says the men were sent to Florida in the wake of several terror bombings in Havana allegedly masterminded by anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative.
Havana has suggested an exchange of its spies for U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba on a conviction for subversion.
The United States rejects talk of a swap, instead demanding that Cuba release Gross without conditions.