By Nick Miroff, Washington Post
MEXICO CITY — Since their return to Havana last month after 16 years in U.S. federal prison, the remaining three members of the spy ring known as “the Cuban Five” have been a frequent presence on state television. Wherever they go — visiting universities or attending outdoor concerts in their honor — they are celebrated as “Heroes of the Republic.”
They speak with a confidence and a candor unusual among Communist officials of their generation, who rarely veer off-script or show emotion. Despite their years behind bars, the men are relatively young, at least by Cuban leadership standards.
And with each public appearance, more Cubans and Cuba-watchers wonder what role the five, and especially ringleader Gerardo Hernández, might play in the country’s political future.
Although several of them had not set foot on the island in 20 years, Havana’s ceaseless international campaign to free the men has arguably made them the most recognizable faces in the Cuban government after the Castros. A generation of Cuban schoolchildren has grown up memorizing their names and biographies.
Hernández, 49, was serving two life sentences plus 15 years when he was freed as part of the prisoner swap for a long-jailed CIA mole in Cuba that also triggered the release of Alan Gross, an American government subcontractor.
Sent by Havana to infiltrate anti-Castro groups in Miami, Hernández was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, having passed along information that Cuba used in the 1996 downing of two civilian planes operated by the exile group Brothers to the Rescue, killing four.
“We dreamed about this moment for so long,” Hernández told Cuban television soon after his arrival, choking back tears. “The only thing that lifted our spirits was the thought of coming home, to be with the Cuban people again.”
“It was worth it,” he said.
The agents have said nothing specific about their plans. But when the Obama administration agreed to send them back, it possibly gave Cuba more than a group of intelligence operatives.
“We don’t know yet what they’ll do, but they return with tremendous prestige,” said Aurelio Alonso, a member of the small Havana civil society organization Cuba Posible, which advocates gradual reforms. “So far, they’ve demonstrated an extraordinary level of political maturity.”
Feature continues here: Cuban Spies
Editor’s Note: The Washington Post is incorrect in reporting the Wasp Network was created “to infiltrate anti-Castro groups in Miami.” It actually targeted US military bases, the FBI, the Miami Herald, local and national political figures, and other groups.