The US has freed a Cuban agent it jailed for spying on Cuban exiles but will keep him in the country on probation for three years, his lawyer said.
Rene Gonzalez, 55, the first to be freed of the so-called “Cuban Five” espionage agents arrested in 1998, left the Marianna prison in Florida’s northwest Panhandle at around 4am EDT (0900 GMT) on Friday.
He was reunited with his two daughters, father and brother, lawyer Philip Horowitz told the Reuters news agency.
“He was in great spirits, very happy to see his family, to be out, he had a smile on his face,” Horowitz said.
Gonzalez had served 13 years of a 15-year sentence. Cuba’s government says putting him on probation puts him at risk from possible reprisals by the Cuban exiles on whom he was convicted of spying.
Along with Gonzalez’s family and supporters, they have demanded he be allowed to return to Cuba immediately.
“If anything happens to Rene, the responsibility will fall entirely on the US government,” Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba’s National Assembly, said at an event in Mexico City.
“In US territory, Rene is in danger, in whatever corner of the United States,” Gonzalez’s wife, Olga Salanueva, told Reuters in Cuba.
“Rene is a man who has served his time, he has a right to go home and his home is Cuba.”
Lawyer Horowitz said he would renew an appeal against the requirement that Gonzalez, who has dual US-Cuban citizenship, spend three years of supervised release in the United States.
He would make the request for “humanitarian reasons”, because Gonzalez had no family living in the United States.
The case of the five – the other four are still serving long US jail terms – has been an irritant to already poisoned US-Cuba ties.
Ties deteriorated further since the jailing by Cuba of a US aid contractor, Alan Gross, who was sentenced this year to 15 years in prison.
Gonzalez’s early morning departure from the rural Florida prison was low-key. He was taken to an unknown destination which Horowitz declined to reveal, citing safety reasons.
Cuba hails the five convicted spies as heroes and has waged an international campaign for their release.
Havana argues Gonzalez and his fellow agents were working undercover in Florida to stop “terrorist” attacks on Cuba by hardline anti-communist Cuban exiles.