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Published: Saturday March 1, 2014 MYT 2:15:07 AM
Updated: Saturday March 1, 2014 MYT 2:15:59 AM

Cuban agent who was released from U.S. prison arrives in Havana

HAVANA (Reuters) - A Cuban intelligence agent has arrived in Havana a day after his release from a U.S. prison where he served more than 15 years for spying on Cuban-American exile groups, Cuban state television reported on Friday.

Fernando Gonzalez, 50, is one of the "Cuban Five" whose detentions have complicated the already tense relations between the United States and Cuba, two countries separated by 90 miles (150 km) of sea and more than 50 years of hostility.

Cuba has suggested it would like to swap its agents for U.S. contractor Alan Gross, an American sentenced to 15 years in Cuba for setting up an illegal communications network. So far the United States has refused to make such a trade.

"Fernando Gonzalez is now in our homeland," a television presenter said in a brief report from the airport. "The hero of the republic and antiterrorist fighter arrived in our homeland today at midday after fully serving a long and unjust sentence that he was subjected to in the United States."

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested him in 1998 along with four other Cuban agents. All were convicted in 2001 of 26 counts of spying on behalf of Fidel Castro's government.

Gonzalez was given a 19-year sentence, which was reduced on appeal in 2008 for good behaviour. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons on Thursday turned him over to immigration officials for deportation, U.S. officials said.

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

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

One of the three remaining agents, Gerardo Hernandez, is serving a double life sentence for his involvement in shooting down two small Brothers to the Rescue planes off the Cuba coast in 1996.

The sentences of two other agents have also been reduced. Antonio Guerrero is due for release in September 2017 and Ramon Labanino is due to be released in October 2024.

The agents' case exacerbated already hostile U.S.-Cuba relations and gained greater attention after the arrest of Gross in 2009. Gross was sentenced to 15 years for what Cuba said was his role in a U.S. government effort to set up an underground Internet network on the Caribbean island.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio)

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