HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, 88, finally met with all five of the Cuban spies who returned home as heroes after serving long prison terms in the United States, 73 days after the last of them were freed in a prisoner swap.
It had been highly anticipated as a reunion of Cuba’s most vaunted heroes. Cuban officials have not explained why it took so long to arrange.
The meeting took place on Saturday, Castro wrote in an article about the visit that appeared in official media on Monday, accompanied by photos of the get-together.
Castro goes by the title of “historic leader” in retirement and the five intelligence agents were recently honored as Heroes of the Republic for spying on anti-Castro extremist groups in the United States and withstanding prison, unjustly according to Cuba.
“The five anti terrorist heroes, who never did any damage to the United States, were trying to prevent and impede terrorist acts against our people that, it is well known, were organized by U.S. intelligence services,” Castro wrote.
Jailed since 1998, the final three of the agents returned home on Dec. 17, when Cuba and the United States completed a prisoner swap as part of the deal in which they agreed to restore diplomatic relations after more than five decades of confrontation. The other two had already returned home after completing their sentences.
In exchange, Cuba freed a Cuban man who spied for Washington and spent nearly 20 years in jail. In addition, Cuba freed imprisoned American aid worker Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds plus 53 people that United States considered political prisoners.
Fidel Castro stepped down from power in 2008, handing off to his younger brother Raul, 83. Fidel Castro occasionally writes a column and is seen in the official media receiving dignitaries at his Havana home, but he has not been spotted in public since Jan. 8, 2014.
Fidel Castro’s current role in policy-making is unknown. Many Cubans presume Raul Castro consults with his brother on major decisions, and Fidel Castro’s long absence after the announcement raised questions about his health and whether he agreed with ceasing hostilities with the Americans.
Intelligence agents Gerardo Hernandez, 49, Antonio Guerrero, 56, and Ramon Labañino, 51, came home on Dec. 17 after serving 16 years in U.S. jails.
Two others, Rene Gonzalez, 58, and Fernandez Gonzalez, 51, had previously returned after fulfilling their sentences.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta Editing by W Simon