HAVANA (AP) — A Cuban spy who spent 13 years in a U.S. prison renounced his American citizenship Monday, part of a deal that allows him to avoid returning to the United States to serve out the remainder of his probation.
Rene Gonzalez arrived at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Havana accompanied by his wife and children as well as an American lawyer. He waved as onlookers shouted his name from surrounding buildings, but did not make any statement.
The 56-year-old is one of the so-called "Cuban Five," intelligence agents convicted in 2001 of spying on U.S. military installations in South Florida, exile groups and politicians. Gonzalez was released in 2011 but ordered to remain in the U.S. while he served out three years of probation.
The other four agents remain in jail.
The five are celebrated as heroes in Cuba, with their faces staring down from highway billboards and out of shrines at government offices and state-owned restaurants.
Their case has received renewed attention since the 2009 arrest of a U.S. government subcontractor, Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence after he was caught bringing communications equipment onto the island illegally while on a USAID-funded democracy building program.
Cuba has suggested it would be willing to free Gross in exchange for the five agents, something Washington has rejected, at least publically.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez reiterated his government's position Monday.
"The Cuban government has informed the North American government of its complete willingness to start serious and respectful conversations to try to find a solution to the case of Mr. Alan Gross," Rodriguez said in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia.
But he added such talks must "take into account the humanitarian concerns of our country in the case of Cuban citizens that are serving sentences in the United States."
Last month U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard granted Gonzalez, a dual U.S.-Cuban national, leave to travel to Cuba to attend a memorial for his father. Once here, Lenard agreed to let him stay on the island if he renounced his American citizenship.
Gonzalez had asked for permission to do that several times, but the U.S. government initially refused.
Under U.S. law, Americans who choose to renounce their citizenship must do so at an overseas consular office. They are warned that the move is irrevocable, and must pay a $450 fee. Gonzalez's request must still be sent to Washington for approval, at which point he would receive a certificate of loss of nationality.
Of his four co-defendants, 49-year-old Fernando Gonzalez, also known as Ruben Campa, is scheduled for release from an Arizona prison Feb. 27, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. Antonio Guerrero, 54, is set to walk out of a north Florida prison Sept. 18, 2017. The other two are serving much longer sentences.
Associated Press writers Paul Haven in Havana and Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this report.