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U.S. judge rules Cuban spy can stay in Cuba if U.S. citizenship renounced

A car drives past a poster of the five Cuban prisoners in U.S. jails, in Havana March 30, 2012. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
A car drives past a poster of the five Cuban prisoners in U.S. jails, in Havana March 30, 2012. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

By Tom Brown

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Cuban spy on probation after 13 years behind bars in the United States can remain in Cuba, where he returned on a court-approved visit last month, if he renounces his U.S. citizenship, a federal judge in Miami ruled on Friday.

Rene Gonzalez, 56, one of what Cuba calls its "Five Heroes," returned to the communist island temporarily on April 22 to attend a memorial service for his deceased father.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard granted Gonzalez's request for the visit on condition that he return to Florida by next Monday.

In her ruling Friday, however, she said the U.S. government had raised no objection to a subsequent motion filed by Gonzalez's lawyer saying he would formally renounce his U.S. citizenship if he was allowed to serve out the remainder of his probation in Cuba.

The judge ordered that Gonzalez has until May 16 to obtain a "certificate of loss of nationality" from the U.S. State Department. If he failed to do so he would be required to return to the United States to complete his probation, she wrote.

The Chicago-born Gonzalez, who holds dual U.S.-Cuban citizenship, had first made the offer to drop his U.S. citizenship early last year, his lawyer said.

"If defendant voluntarily renounces his United States citizenship ... then defendant shall serve the remainder of his supervised-release term in Cuba on a non-reporting basis, and shall not return to the United States," Lenard wrote.

Gonzalez could not be reached for immediate comment. But his U.S. attorney, Philip Horowitz, said his client was happy with the judge's decision.

"It took a long time but the government finally accepted his offer," Horowitz said. "The government has made it very clear they don't want him to be a U.S. citizen," he added.

Lenard had also granted Gonzalez's request to visit a critically ill brother in Cuba in March of last year. Gonzalez returned to the United States after that visit.

Similarly, jailed American contractor Alan Gross has requested that Cuban President Raul Castro allow him a temporary return to the United States to visit his mother, who has inoperable lung cancer.

Gonzalez was convicted in 2001 of conspiring to spy on Cuban exile groups and U.S. military activities in Florida as part of an espionage ring known as the "Wasp Network."

One of his co-defendants is serving a double life sentence for his part in the shooting down of two U.S. planes in 1996 flown by an exile group that dropped anti-government leaflets over Havana.

The case of the so-called Cuban Five is little known outside the Cuban exile community in the United States but is a major issue in Cuba where the government repeatedly says they were wrongly convicted and demands their release.

Havana maintains the agents were only collecting information on Cuban exile groups planning actions against the island 90 miles from Key West, Florida.

Gonzalez was the first of the five to be released from jail when he finished his sentence in 2011, but he was ordered to stay in the United States for a three-year probation period that ends in October of next year.

Cuba has hinted at a possible swap of the Cuban Five for Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for illegally installing Internet networks for Cuban Jewish groups. He was working for a U.S. program that Cuba considers subversive.

The United States has rejected the idea of any possible swap, however.

(Reporting by Tom Brown; Additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by Eric Beech)

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