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Another 'Cuban Five' intelligence agent to be freed

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
February 27, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Fernando Gonzalez, bottom left, will be the second member of the
Fernando Gonzalez, bottom left, will be the second member of the "Cuban Five" to be released from prison.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fernando Gonzalez is a member of the network of Cuban agents
  • He was released Thursday from U.S. prison
  • Cubans have long pushed for his release

Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Accused of being a spy in the United States, Fernando Gonzalez can expect a hero's welcome when he returns to Cuba.

The Cuban intelligence agent was released from a U.S. federal prison Thursday after serving 15 years for failing to register as a foreign agent and possessing forged documents.

Gonzalez will be the second member of the "Cuban Five" to be released from prison. Cuban officials said they expected that he would return to the island after being transferred to the custody of immigration officials for deportation proceedings, which could take several days.

The five were part of 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.

One of the exile groups that the intelligence agents targeted was Brothers to the Rescue, which searched for Cuban rafters on the Straits of Florida from small airplanes.

In 1996, four members of Brothers to the Rescue were killed after they were shot down by Cuban fighter jets as the group's planes headed toward the island to drop anti-government leaflets.

Federal prosecutors argued that information supplied by some of the "Cuban Five" agents assisted in the downing of the planes. Another seven agents cooperated with prosecutors.

The five agents were convicted in 2001 and have since been the focus of an international campaign by the Cuban government to free them.

Cuban officials have said they wish to discuss the case of the Cuban agents and that of jailed U.S. State Department contractor Alan Gross, who was sentenced in 2011 to 15 years in prison after being convicted of importing banned communications equipment to Cuba.

But U.S. officials have rejected the idea of a swap, saying Gross did not engage in any intelligence-gathering in Cuba.

Last year, "Cuban Five" member Rene Gonzalez returned to Cuba after completing his prison sentence.

He has been treated as a hero by Cuba's state media and has led the media campaign to free the other intelligence agents.

"Of course, he will need a need to rest," Rene Gonzalez said last month of his fellow agent's impending release. "Then I hope he will take up the fight for our three brothers."

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