By Peter Orsi, The Associated Press
HAVANA – The Cuban government complained Wednesday that U.S. officials are not granting consular access for an intelligence agent who walked free from prison in 2011 but was ordered to remain in the United States during his three-year parole. A Foreign Ministry statement that was emailed to reporters and published on the front page of Communist Party newspaper Granma said the Cuban Interests Section in Washington has presented “several alternatives for continuing regular consular visits,” but the U.S. State Department rejected them. It accused Washington of violating the 1963 Vienna Convention governing consular access, and called it an attempt to continue punishing Rene Gonzalez, one of the so-called Cuban Five, even after his release. “This deliberate and cruel decision also represents an additional punishment that is added to the already strict conditions of Rene‘s supervised release,” the statement read. A State Department official contacted by The Associated Press was not immediately able to comment on Gonzalez‘s case.
Cuban diplomats in Washington are generally restricted from leaving the capital without getting special permission, as are U.S. envoys to Havana. Gonzalez was released in Florida and has been living in an undisclosed location. The Cuban Foreign Ministry said consular access had been authorized for Gonzalez during his 13 years in prison and the first months of his supervised release, but that Washington stopped approving the visits in September 2012. The Cuban Five were arrested in 1998 and convicted three years later of being part of a ring that sought to spy on Florida military installations, Cuban exile groups and politicians opposed to Castro’s government. One of the agents was also convicted of murder conspiracy connected to Cuban fighter jets’ shooting down of an exile flight over the Florida Straits in 1996. Havana maintains that the men were no threat to U.S. national security and were only monitoring militant anti-Castro exiles in Florida, some of whom are blamed for a string of bombings in Cuba.
Gonzalez, a Cuban and U.S. dual citizen, was released in October 2011 after serving all but two years of a 15-year sentence. He is under a judge’s orders not to leave the country, though he was allowed a brief trip to Cuba last year to visit his ailing brother. The other four Cubans are still behind bars serving sentences ranging up to life in prison. Reviled as spies by Miami exiles, the Cuban Five are lauded as national heroes by Havana authorities, who constantly bang the drum for their repatriation.
Cuba, meanwhile, is holding American government contractor Alan Gross on a 15-year prison sentence for crimes against the state after he was caught bringing restricted communications equipment to the island as part of a USAID democracy-building program. He says he did nothing wrong and was only trying to boost the Internet capabilities of the island’s small Jewish community. Cuba considers such USAID programs a violation of its sovereignty. Cuba has expressed interest in swapping Gross for at least some of the Cuban Five.