MIAMI – One of the five Cuban intelligence officers convicted in 2001 of spying on the United States saw his sentence reduced Tuesday from life in prison to 21 years and eight months after an appellate court deemed the original penalty too harsh.
Antonio Guerrero, clad in a beige prison uniform and shackled at the ankles, heard U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard hand down the new sentence at a hearing in federal court in Miami.
Guerrero and four other Cubans were found guilty of conspiracy and operating as unregistered foreign agents after their “Wasp Network” was taken down by U.S. authorities in 1998.
Acting on orders from Cuban intelligence, Guerrero in 1993 obtained a public works job at the Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West.
Though he reported to Havana on activity at the base, he did not relay any classified information.
Lenard rejected on Tuesday the 20-year sentence that federal prosecutors had agreed with Guerrero’s attorney, Leonard Weinglass, tacking on an extra two years behind bars plus five years’ probation.
Given the time that he has already served since his arrest in 1998 and benefits for good behavior, Guerrero could be released in seven years, Weinglass told reporters.
Havana acknowledges that Guerrero, Gerardo Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Ramon Labańino and Fernando Gonzalez are intelligence agents, but says they were spying not on the U.S. government but on Miami’s Cuban exile community.
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 U.S. 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.
Last summer, 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.
Attorneys for Fernando Gonzalez and Labańino are still gathering evidence to be submitted for their new sentencing hearings.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 said then.
U.S. officials dismissed the idea out of hand. EFE