HAVANA (Reuters) - For two decades, the parents of a Cuban man convicted of spying for the United States believed he was innocent. Now that all signs suggest he was a double agent working for Washington, they say they can only wish him a happy future.
Rolando Sarraff was sentenced to 25 years for collaborating with the United States while he worked for Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence, helping the Americans crack codes that exposed Cuban spies working in the United States, according to former U.S. intelligence officials who knew of his case.
Sarraff, 51, is widely believed to be the spy that U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of last week when he announced an end to five decades of enmity with communist-run Cuba and a prisoner swap that accompanied it.
Obama said his “sacrifice has been known to only a few” and praised him for providing information that led to several Cuban spies in the United States, including the three he was swapped for. Several current and former U.S. officials identified that spy as Sarraff, according to The New York Times.
His parents said they are desperate to hear from their son as they haven’t spoken with him since before Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement.
“I always thought that (he was innocent) but, well, I don’t have any information,” his father, also called Rolando Sarraff, said on Friday from the front door of the couple’s simple apartment in an upscale neighborhood of western Havana.
“Look, the Cuban government hasn’t said anything and neither has Obama, so there is an agreement between the two governments not to say anything, I guess,” the 79-year-old father said. “The important thing is that my son be well.”
Neither Washington nor Havana have said where the spy has been since his release from prison.
For years, Sarraff’s parents spoke with him on the phone and visited him regularly in prison, and they believed their son’s claim that he was innocent. A family blog described him as unjustly imprisoned.
Then last week he was apparently taken from prison with no explanation from either the Cuban or U.S. governments.
His parents said they last saw him two days before the joint announcement by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro that they would restore diplomatic ties and swap prisoners. When they called their son the following day, they were told he was no longer available.
If the United States negotiated Sarraff’s release, it would confirm he was a turncoat. It was unknown if Sarraff had not contacted his family because U.S. or Cuban officials told him not to or for his own reasons.
“Our longing is that he be happy and that he’s well and that he has a plan for his future, because no prisoner can have a plan for his future,” his mother, 76-year-old Odesa Trujillo, said on Friday. “He has to move forward.”
The parents, both retired journalists who suffer from health problems, declined to talk about how they felt about their son’s case but his mother defended him as a good person.
“He’s a great son, a great friend, a great everything, and if one day you get to speak with him I‘m sure that you will see how cultured he is,” she said.
In the prisoner exchange, Obama commuted the sentences of three Cuban intelligence agents while Cuba released the spy and U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross. It also committed to freeing 53 people that the U.S. government considers political prisoners, although their identities remain a mystery nine days later.
Reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Kieran Murray