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Cuban spy, back in Havana after years in U.S. prison: No regrets

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
May 10, 2013 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • René González spent years in U.S. prisons after being convicted in 2001
  • He was a member of the so-called "Cuban Five" network of Cuban agents
  • Now back in Havana, he has renounced his U.S. citizenship as a U.S. judge required
  • "I am a soldier for the Cuban revolution," González declares at a news conference

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Proclaiming "I am a soldier for the Cuban revolution," a Cuban intelligence agent said Friday he has no regrets about the spying that landed him in U.S. prisons for more than a decade.

"I felt that it was the right thing to do," René González said during a press conference in Havana.

González was a member of the so-called "Cuban Five," a network of agents in South Florida that the Cuban government said was gathering intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks against Cuba. U.S. federal prosecutors called the network a dangerous undercover spy cell.

The men were convicted in 2001 and ever since have been the focus of an international campaign by Cuban officials to free them.

González was released from prison in October 2011 but was required to serve three years probation in the United States.

Last week, however, U.S. Judge Joan Lenard ruled that if González, who had already been allowed to temporarily return to Cuba for his father's funeral, could stay there provided he renounce his U.S. citizenship.

In her ruling Lenard wrote that federal prosecutors had said González would be less of a security risk to the United States if he returned to Cuba. Previously, prosecutors had argued that González should not be allowed to go back to Cuba.

On Friday, Gonzalez showed off a certificate issued by the U.S. State Department that confirmed he had renounced his U.S. citizenship.

Despite the reversal by federal authorities, González said his early return to Cuba did not demonstrate a thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations.

"This was no humanitarian gesture," he said. "This was a decision we forced the U.S. government to take. The only option they had was to look worse."

González's comments did not bode well for jailed U.S. State Department contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced in 2011 to a 15-year prison for importing banned communications equipment to Cuba.

Last year, Cuban officials said Gross might be freed if the United States made a "humanitarian gesture" and agreed to negotiations over the five imprisoned Cuban agents.

U.S. officials have dismissed the possibility of talks, saying Gross did not spy against Cuba.

Born in the United States to pro-Castro Cuban parents, González returned with them to Cuba where he became an experienced pilot.

González said before leaving for the United States, he was told by government officials that he could still back out of the mission.

"I was told first of all that it was a voluntary assignment," he said. "No one forced me in any way. I felt that it was the right thing to do."

González later flew with the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue, which scoured the Florida Straits by small plane looking for Cuban rafters.

In 1996, four members of the group were killed after their planes were shot down by Cuban military aircraft as the group's planes flew towards the island to drop anti-government leaflets.

Federal prosecutors argued that information supplied by the Cuban Five agents assisted in the downing of the planes.

"Some times when I would fly with them and they would manifest their resentment," González said Friday. "I would daydream to myself that I was the first Cubana (Airlines) pilot to land a plane in the United States."

González said he will now dedicate himself to bringing back to Cuba the four other still-incarcerated agents.

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