A Cuban agent on probation in the U.S. after serving a 13-year prison term has told his gravely ill brother in a letter that he hopes they can see each other again, according to a letter the man's lawyer released Thursday.
Rene Gonzalez, who was released from a U.S. federal penitentiary last year, is appealing a judge's decision that he serve three years probation in the United States before being allowed to return to Cuba.
At the same time, he is seeking special dispensation to pay a visit to Cuba so he can see his younger brother Roberto, who has cancer and is listed in grave condition at a Havana hospital. Both men are dual U.S.-Cuban citizens.
Nuris Pinero, a prominent Cuban attorney who is part of Rene Gonzalez's defense team, told The Associated Press that the Gonzalez family hopes that making the letter public will help persuade U.S. authorities to grant her client's request.
"The family doesn't only hope to influence the judge, but also anyone who has a love of justice," Pinero said. "It is a question of humanity."
Pinero said her client is a man of his word and would return to the U.S. if allowed by the judge to briefly visit his brother, though U.S. authorities would presumably have no way of getting him back if he changed his mind, given the two nations' bitter relations.
Pinero said Gonzalez knows that breaking his word would hurt the case of four other Cuban agents who remain jailed in the U.S. All were convicted in 1998 of spying and other crimes and sentenced to long jail terms.
The case has been largely forgotten in the U.S., but it remains a cause celebre in Cuba, where the government hails the "Cuban Five" as heroes who were only trying to detect and prevent violent attacks against their island by exile groups. Cuban state-run media publish accounts of solidarity from around the world, and the men's relatives are quoted in newspapers and television news broadcasts.
In the letter to his brother, Rene Gonzalez remembers better days when they splashed around in a pool as children, and apologizes for not writing more during his long incarceration. Roberto Gonzalez is also a lawyer involved in his brother's defense.
The two last saw each other in 2011 when Roberto traveled to the U.S. for a jailhouse visit, Pinero said.
"I never thought I would have to write you this letter," Gonzalez wrote his brother in the letter dated Feb. 24. "Even though you cannot see me, know that I am with you."
Pinero is also the lawyer for Alan Gross, a U.S. government contractor convicted by a Cuban court and sentenced to 15 years in prison for bringing satellite phones and other communication equipment to the island illegally while working on a USAID-funded democracy-building program. Pinero argued Gross' case and his appeal before Cuba's Supreme Court, both unsuccessful.
Cuban officials have stopped short of linking Gross' fate with that of the Cuban Five, but senior officials have said no one should expect the island to free the 62-year-old American in a "unilateral gesture."
Gross' family has requested his release on humanitarian grounds, saying the Maryland native has lost nearly 100 pounds while in prison and noting that both his mother and adult daughter are battling cancer.
Pinero declined to comment on her other prominent client.
"They are very different cases," she said. "I don't want to mix one with the other."
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