A Miami federal judge has granted permission for convicted Cuban agent Rene Gonzalez to visit his dying brother in Cuba for two weeks, despite "security concerns" raised by the FBI that he could meet with government intelligence officials on the island to receive new spying instructions.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard Monday approved Gonzalez's request to see his brother, Roberto, who is in the "terminal stages" of lung and brain cancer. She did not address the Justice Department's concerns about his temporary Cuban trip while he is serving a three-year probation in the United States.
Lenard, who presided over the so-called Cuban Five spy trial of Gonzalez and four others still imprisoned, set specific conditions for his visit to Cuba: He must obtain proper paperwork from the federal government, submit a detailed itinerary to his probation officer, report by phone to the officer and return to the United States two weeks after his departure.
Gonzalez's lawyer, Philip Horowitz, told The Miami Herald he was grateful to the judge for "doing the right thing. ... It's a compassionate trip. It's a humanitarian trip. It has nothing to do with politics."
The U.S. attorney's office in Miami declined to comment.
The Cuban Five case was highly controversial, mainly because Miami federal prosecutors alleged the spy plot led to the Cuban government's shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes over the Florida Straits, killing four members of the exile group in 1996. One of the five defendants was convicted of a murder conspiracy charge.
Horowitz declined to say when Gonzalez, 55, will leave for Cuba. He said opposition by the U.S. attorney's office to the family visit based on FBI security concerns was "without substance," adding that similar requests by other ex-convicts serving probation are routinely granted by the federal court.
The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, based in San Francisco, praised the judge's decision. "Many people around the world have been watching this situation and supporting the right of Rene and Roberto and their families to be together," the organization said in a statement.
Gonzalez, convicted in 2001 of conspiring as a Cuban agent with the "Wasp Network" on South Florida's exile community and military installations, was released in October after serving 13 years in prison.
Last month, Horowitz filed his request to allow Gonzalez to see his dying brother, Roberto, 53, an attorney, who had attended the older brother's trial more than a decade ago. The lawyer said in an interview that he plans to file a new request seeking permission for his client to serve his probation in Cuba after he returns from the island -- a bid that the judge had previously rejected because Gonzalez was still in prison at the time.
Gonzalez's emergency request preceded last week's appeal by a lawyer for Alan Gross to Cuban leader Raul Castro to allow the jailed U.S. subcontractor to travel to the United States for two weeks to see his 89-year-old mother, who is battling cancer.
The United States has long called for the release of Gross, who has been imprisoned in Cuba for more than two years. He is serving a 15-year term for "actions against the integrity of the state." The Cuban government views the Cuban Five as heroes who were unjustly convicted and should be freed immediately, saying their mission was to thwart exile plots to topple Fidel Castro.
The stalemate has further cooled an already contentious relationship between Washington and Havana.
In a March 7 letter to Raul Castro sent via the U.S. Interests Section in Washington, Gross' lawyer said the health of his mother, Evelyn Gross, who is suffering from inoperable lung cancer, had taken a turn for the worse.
"As you can imagine, Alan and she are tortured daily by the fact that they may never see each other again, and her final wish is to be able to see her son once more before her battle with cancer is lost," attorney Peter J. Kahn wrote.
Gross, who worked as a subcontractor on a U.S. Agency for International Development democracy-building program, was arrested for trying to distribute satellite equipment to link with the Internet. He said it was intended for Cuban Jewish groups; the Cuban government said he was working on a subversive program designed to undermine it.
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