Cuban agent urges prisoner swap for U.S. contractor like Afghan deal

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 02, 2014 2:22 PM

By Nelson Acosta

HAVANA (Reuters) - A Cuban intelligence officer recently released from a U.S. prison said on Monday that a similar deal to the one that freed U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl should be negotiated in the case of jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross and three Cuban agents behind bars in the United States.

Five Taliban leaders were flown from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar on Sunday as part of a secret agreement to release Bergdahl, who left Afghanistan for Germany on the same day.

In another part of Cuba, U.S. contractor Alan Gross, an American sentenced to 15 years in Cuba after being arrested in 2009 for setting up an illegal communications network, continued to languish behind bars at a military hospital in Havana.

"Without a doubt the United States has little reason not to allow something similar to happen," Cuban agent Fernando Gonzalez, 50, who served more than 15 years for spying on Cuban-American exile groups in Miami, said at a Havana press conference.

"The only thing lacking is political will in Washington," he said

Gonzalez is one of the "Cuban Five" whose detentions, along with Gross', have complicated the already tense relations between the United States and Cuba.

The United States deported him earlier this year.

There was no immediate comment from the Cuban government or Obama administration.

Gonzalez said he had no knowledge that such an exchange was under discussion.

Cuba has suggested it would like to swap its agents for Gross. So far the United States has refused to make such a trade.

Another Cuban agent, Rene Gonzalez, was released in 2011 and returned to Cuba after serving more than 13 years.

Three of the original five Cuban agents remain in prison in the United States, and all are treated as heroes in Cuba, where their cases are considered emblematic of U.S. hostility toward its neighbor 90 miles away.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested all five in 1998. All were convicted in 2001 of 26 counts of spying on behalf of the government of Fidel Castro, who has since ceded power to his brother Raul.

The group, called La Red Avispa or the Wasp Network, infiltrated Miami-based activist groups and attempted to spy on U.S. military installations, relaying coded messages back to Havana, albeit with little success.

(Writing by Marc Frank; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)