A lawyer for a Cuban agent serving probation after a long jail term in the United States said Tuesday that his client is elated with a Miami judge's decision to let him visit his ailing brother on the island, and says the man will keep his word and return to serve out the remainder of the punishment.
The ruling in the case of Rene Gonzalez offered a rare moment of relaxation in tension between the two countries. It also raised hopes Cuba might reciprocate with a humanitarian gesture for jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross, whose imprisonment has torpedoed any hope of rapprochement between the Cold War enemies.
Gross has asked authorities to be allowed to return to the United States to visit his mother and adult daughter, who are both battling cancer, and his supporters are looking to next week's visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict XVI as a chance for a goodwill gesture.
Gonzalez is one of the so-called Cuban Five, agents who were convicted of spying on Cuban exiles in South Florida and trying to infiltrate military installations and political campaigns. He was freed last year after serving most of a 15-year sentence, but was ordered to remain in the U.S. for three years on supervised release.
Phil Horowitz, a Miami-based criminal defense attorney who has represented Gonzalez since 1998, said Gonzalez would file all the paperwork to comply with the judge's order, including an itinerary with addresses and the names of people he plans to see, and intends to make the trip as soon as possible.
"He's happy he's going to be able to see his brother while he's in his time of need," Horowitz said. "Like I've always said in my motions, this is not a political request, this is a pure humanitarian request."
Gonzalez, a dual Cuban-American citizen whose brother has lung cancer, promises to return within the two-week limit established in the ruling.
"If he doesn't, he's going to be an international pariah," the lawyer said. "No. 2, there's still four more of his fellow countrymen in the United States prison system that are eventually going to get released. If he doesn't comply with the court order it may reflect badly on them, and he has absolutely no desire to do that."
As Cuban and U.S. officials have done in the past, Horowitz insisted that Gonzalez's and Gross' cases are separate.
However Philip Peters, a longtime Cuba analyst at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute Lexington Institute, noted similarities between Gonzalez and Gross, a 62-year-old from Maryland who was arrested in December 2009 while working with Cuban Jewish communities to improve their Internet access. Gross was convicted last year of crimes against the state and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
"There's this parallel situation where both Gonzalez and Gross have relatives that are (suffering from) cancer," Peters said. "Both have asked for a brief visit, and they've both promised that they would return to serve their sentence."
"One has been granted, and the other is pending."
But since permission came from the judicial branch rather than the executive, it's tough to interpret this as a clear beginning of a broader humanitarian agreement between Washington and Havana.
"It's definitely an interesting twist when you consider that Cuba has said that they're interested in reciprocal humanitarian steps," Peters said. "But the United States did not present this as a positive gesture, and in fact the (Obama) administration opposed it. ... It would be a little tricky for U.S. diplomats to turn around and try to get something out of this."
In court filings last week, the Justice Department argued against letting Gonzalez return to the island on the grounds that he could receive new spying instructions from Cuban intelligence officials.
In Washington on Tuesday, Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment on whether an appeal was in the works.
Gonzalez's lawyer has said the dual Cuban-American citizen is working as a caretaker at a private home, but did not reveal the location out of concern for his client's safety.
Cuban authorities were initially quiet about the ruling except for a short, matter-of-fact article in state media, where the Cuban Five are a constant fixture and cause celebre.
Requests for government comment and permission to interview Gonzalez's wife, Olga Salanueva, were not immediately granted.
"Imagine the happiness a Cuban feels (upon learning) that Rene has been given a humanitarian visa to visit his brother," Antonio Castro, a son of former President Fidel Castro, told The Associated Press at an unrelated event.
"This is a very long struggle. It has been going on for years and we have to keep moving forward," Castro said. "But of course it's a cause for personal satisfaction."
Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez and Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, and Gisela Salomon in Miami, contributed to this report.
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