Judge cuts sentences for two Cuban spies

December 10th, 2009 - 12:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Miami, Dec 10 (EFE) A US federal judge reduced the sentence of one of the five Cuban intelligence officers convicted in 2001 of spying on the US from life in prison to 30 years and trimmed a little more than a year from the 19-year term handed down to another spy.
Ramon Labanino, shackled and wearing a beige prison uniform, embraced defence attorney William Morris when District Judge Joan Lenard announced she was cutting his sentence to 30 years.

Fernando Gonzalez, serving a 19-year prison term, saw his sentence reduced to 17 years behind bars plus five years of probation.

In October, Lenard reduced the sentence of a third member of the “Cuban Five”, Antonio Guerrero, from life to 21 years and eight months.

Lenard handed down the revised penalties pursuant to a 2008 appellate ruling that the original sentences of Labanino, Gonzalez and Guerrero were too harsh.

Morris told EFE his client will have to serve at least 84 percent of his sentence.

As Labanino has already spent 11 years in prison, “he could be released in around 14 years”, the defence lawyer said. “This gives him some hope to be able to begin his life.”

The national coordinator of the Free the Five group described the revised sentences as “the best that was expected today”.

“We’re going to battle until they are free,” Gloria La Riva said. “Not one day of their incarceration has been just.”

Havana acknowledges that Guerrero, Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Labanino and Fernando Gonzalez are intelligence agents, but says they were spying not on Miami’s Cuban exile community, not the US government.

Cuba says the men were sent to Florida in the wake of several terror bombings in Havana allegedly masterminded by anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles.

A three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the spies’ convictions in 2005, citing the “prejudices” of Miami’s anti-Castro Cubans.

But the full court later nixed the spies’ bid for a new trial and reinstated the original convictions.

In 2008, another three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit again refused to overturn the convictions and confirmed the sentences of Hernandez and Rene Gonzalez, while ordering the trial court to reconsider the penalties imposed on the other three in light of a subsequent finding that they did not gather top secret information.

Hernandez is serving two life sentences, one for espionage and the other for his ostensible role in the 1996 downing by Cuban MiGs of two civilian airplanes belonging to the Miami-based exile group Brothers to the Rescue, four of whose members were killed in the incident over international waters.

Rene Gonzalez received a 15-year jail term.

In June, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the original convictions of the men the Cuban government calls the “five heroes”.

During a visit to Brazil last December, Cuban President Raul Castro responded to a reporter’s question about prisoners of conscience in Cuba by offering to trade the political detainees - said by dissident groups to number 210 - for the five Cuban spies in US prisons.

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

US officials dismissed the idea.

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