Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    And then there were four

    Cuban-American relations

    And then there were four
    Oct 9th 2011, 16:55 by D.A. | MIAMI

    BOTH the and Cuba have taken a hard line on punishing each
    others' alleged spies. In March Cuba sentenced , an employee
    of a company working for the American government, to 15 years in jail
    for illegally distributing communications equipment. Mr had no
    ties to American intelligence services, and United States officials
    called the decision "appalling". But in recent years America has been no
    more forgiving of Cuban operatives working in its territory. In 2001 a
    Florida court gave harsh sentences, ranging from 15 years in to
    life, to five Cuban intelligence officers known as the "Cuban Five", who
    had been spying on groups in Miami that opposed the government of
    . The verdict was a break from America's prior policy of
    quietly expelling Cuban agents, and has been widely criticised as unfair
    because of the allegedly biased jury pool in Miami. Cuban state
    propaganda and media call the group the "Five Heroes".

    Barack Obama has sought to improve relations with Cuba—though not with
    its government, now led by Mr 's younger brother Raúl—by relaxing
    restrictions on Cuban-Americans visiting and sending money to the
    island. Now the American courts have extended an olive branch regarding
    the Cuban Five as well. On October 7th René González (pictured), a dual
    American-Cuban citizen who was given the shortest sentence of the group,
    was granted parole for good behaviour and released from jail.

    After arriving in the United States in 1990 in an apparent defection
    aboard a stolen crop duster, Mr González infiltrated Brothers to the
    Rescue, an exile group that had dropped anti-Castro leaflets from planes
    into Cuba. He flew a series of volunteer missions for the group. In 1996
    the Cuban air force shot down two of the Brothers' planes that had
    approached the island while they were still in international airspace.
    Four people were killed, causing outrage in the United States.

    The five agents, who had relayed information about the Brothers to the
    Cuban government, were two years later. They admitted they
    worked for Cuba but argued that they were on a legitimate mission to
    defend the island from terrorist attacks by militants in Miami. One of
    them, Gerardo Hernández, was convicted of first-degree murder of the
    planes' pilots and passengers, and was given two life sentences. But
    prosecutors were unable to tie Mr González to the incident, leaving him
    with lesser charges of conspiracy and illegally acting as a Cuban agent.

    After a decade behind bars, Mr González has now been paroled. Foreigners
    are usually to their home countries after serving their
    sentences. But because Mr González is a dual citizen, he cannot be
    deported. The judge who released him ruled that he must serve out the
    remaining three years of his term on probation in the United States. Mr
    González's lawyer says he has no family or means of support in America,
    and requested that he be allowed to serve a supervised release in Cuba.
    But prosecutors say it would be impossible to monitor his actions there
    and have opposed the proposal. Ironically, the most vocal advocate for
    his repatriation to Cuba has been José Basulto, the founder of Brothers
    to the Rescue and the pilot of a third plane on the group's 1996 mission
    that was not shot down. "He has no place here," Mr Basulto told the
    Miami Herald. "I don't think we on this side of the Florida Straits have
    any use for a person like him."

    In theory Mr González's release should have helped to thaw
    Cuban-American relations. But it has not placated Fidel Castro, who is
    still incensed at the "brutal" decision that Mr González cannot leave
    the United States. "This is how the empire responds to the increasing
    demand around the world for ," Mr Castro wrote. "If it weren't
    so, the empire would cease to be an empire and Obama would cease to be