Cuba willing to swap dissidents with spies held in US: Minister

January 29th, 2009 - 3:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Havana, Jan 29 (IANS) Cuba’s foreign minister has said that his country is willing to release jailed dissidents in exchange for the return of the five Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned in the US, EFE reported Thursday.The swap was first proposed last month by Cuban President Raul Castro during an official visit to Brazil.

“Each and every one of the words said earlier by Raul remain in effect,” Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said Wednesday at a press conference in Havana.

While in Brazil, Castro said: “If they want the dissidents, we’ll send them tomorrow, with their families and all, but let them return our five heroes to us.”

He was referring to Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon LabaƱino and Fernando Gonzalez.

The men were arrested more than 10 years ago in South Florida, where they were sent to spy on the Cuban exile community in the wake of several terror bombings on the island allegedly masterminded by Miami-based anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles.

The five were convicted in a federal court in Miami and given sentences ranging from 15 years to life in prison. Attorneys hired by the Cuban government are trying to get the US Supreme Court to review their convictions.

Last week, Perez Roque called on Obama to carry out “a profound revision” of US policy toward Havana, one that would include putting an end to the economic embargo Washington imposed on the communist-ruled island in 1962.

The two countries have had no diplomatic ties since shortly after the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power Jan 1, 1959.

Raul Castro, who formally succeeded ailing older brother Fidel as Cuba’s president in February 2008, has said more than once that he is prepared to meet with Obama at a time and place of the US leader’s choice.

The new American president said during the election campaign that he would roll back draconian restrictions the Bush administration imposed on Cuban-Americans’ travel and remittances to the island.

At the same time, Obama said he would not consider ending the 46-year-old economic embargo until the Cuban government agrees to free political prisoners and implement democratic reforms.

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