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    Top Cuban spy released by Obama says he’s ready for his ‘next order’ from Castro regime

    Top Cuban spy released by Obama says he’s ready for his ‘next order’
    from Castro regime
    In an exclusive interview with Yahoo News, Gerardo Hernandez is defiant
    about his role as ringleader of the Cuban Five spy network
    By Michael Isikoff

    HAVANA — In the depths of his 16-year odyssey through the U.S. prison
    system, convicted Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez was transferred to an
    underground cell at Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution that was
    known to inmates simply as “the cage.”

    As Hernandez recalls it, he was stripped to his underwear, cut off from
    all human contact and tormented by toilet water seeping — drip by drip —
    from the cell above him into the sink in his cramped living space.

    It was days after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the federal
    Bureau of Prisons was taking no chances — “special administrative
    measures,” as they were called — with high-profile, politically
    sensitive inmates such as Hernandez, who was serving a double life
    sentence, with no possibility of parole, for conspiracy to commit
    espionage and murder.

    “Hello,” he said when he was finally permitted to make his first phone
    call to his designated contact at the Cuban Interests Section in
    Washington. “It is the Count of Monte Cristo calling.”

    It was Hernandez’s impish allusion to the famous 19th-century novel by
    Alexandre Dumas, whose hero, Edmond Dantès, is imprisoned in a dungeon
    on a Mediterranean island for the rest of his life — only to
    miraculously escape and re-emerge years later, triumphant, as a wealthy
    member of French nobility.

    Today, after a series of plot twists every bit as improbable as those in
    Dumas’ novel, Hernandez counts himself as the modern-day, real-life
    equivalent. His sentence commuted by President Barack Obama, he is now a
    free man in his native Cuba, reunited with his wife, Adriana, and his
    former spy comrades. Last Tuesday, Hernandez and his fellow spies — the
    Cuban Five, they are called here — were officially decorated by
    President Raúl Castro as national heroes in a grand celebration at
    Cuba’s National Assembly.

    And, Hernandez tells Yahoo News in an exclusive interview, he’s ready to
    return for duty to advance the cause of his country’s communist revolution.

    “What I’m telling you right now, I already told Raúl Castro: I’m a
    soldier,” said Hernandez, pounding his chest. “I’m ready to receive my
    next order. I can serve anywhere my country believes I am useful.”

    Perhaps most astonishing of all, Hernandez, 48, is also the father of a
    7-week-old baby, Gema. The girl (her name means “precious stone” in
    Spanish) was conceived last year while Hernandez was still in a U.S.
    prison: His frozen sperm was shipped to Panama for secret fertility
    treatments for Adriana, all facilitated by the Obama administration — at
    the urging of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy — as part of its backdoor
    diplomacy with the Cuban government.

    “We have to believe in miracles,” Hernandez said, gently rocking Gema, a
    glowing Adriana by his side as the couple sat in the courtyard of the
    foreign ministry villa where they now live, attended to by a
    government-supplied staff of nannies, cooks and servers.

    The release last Dec. 17 of Hernandez, as well as the last two
    imprisoned members of his Cuban Five spy network, Ramon Labanino and
    Antonio Guerrero, was a huge propaganda coup for the Castro government.
    It also paved the way for a historic breakthrough in U.S.-Cuba relations
    that has already brought a wave of American tourists to the island and
    U.S. companies knocking on Havana’s door looking for new

    But the freeing of Hernandez and the Cuban Five spies — coinciding with
    Cuba’s release of imprisoned American contractor Alan Gross and a jailed
    CIA spy — is continuing to stir raw anger among anti-Castro Cubans in
    South Florida and some members of Congress.

    “Shameful,” wrote GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Bob Goodlatte,
    chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in a recent letter to the
    Bureau of Prisons, describing Hernandez as a “convicted spy and
    murderer” and demanding answers about the medical treatments for his wife.

    For his part, Hernandez is unbowed and unrepentant, a proud Fidelista,
    although one with a wry sense of humor. “I have a new warden now,” he
    said at the villa, nodding toward a woman looming in the background. “My
    mother-in-law.”

    As Hernandez describes it, he is a patriot who was dispatched by Cuba’s
    Directorate of Intelligence to perform what Cubans viewed as a vital
    mission inside the United States: to infiltrate anti-Castro exile groups
    in South Florida that for years were plotting and conducting “terrorist”
    attacks on their homeland.

    “There were training camps in the Everglades in South Florida,” he said.
    “Those people used to go in speedboats to Cuba, do some shootings there,
    place some bombs there and go back and give a press conference: ‘Oh
    yeah, we did this. We went to Cuba. Down with the Castro government.’”

    Those attacks, which continued over a span of decades and are mostly
    forgotten in the United States, are etched in the memories of most
    Cubans. In 1976, a Cuban airliner was bombed over the Caribbean, killing
    73 passengers, including the teenage members of the Cuban national
    fencing team. As late as 1997, there was a series of bombings at Havana
    hotels, aimed at disrupting the country’s nascent tourism industry and
    killing an Italian businessman — attacks that were said to be the work
    of anti-Castro exile groups.

    Hernandez compared his efforts to thwart those attacks to the CIA’s own
    attempts to disrupt terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic
    State. Only unlike the United States, he said, Cuba “doesn’t have
    drones” to kill the terrorists.

    “And even in the U.S., where you have drones, you are sending people,
    dressing them up like al-Qaida people with beards” and infiltrating
    their training camps. “That’s exactly what Cuba did.”

    As FBI and federal prosecutors later alleged, Hernandez — using a false
    “legend” as a graphic designer from Puerto Rico — was the case officer
    for the project, overseeing more than a dozen Cuban spies in the United
    States known as La Red Avispa, or the Wasp Network. Prosecutors charged
    that their efforts weren’t restricted to simply spying on the exile
    groups: They also tried to penetrate U.S. military installations. Cuban
    Five member Guerrero, for example, landed a janitor’s position at Naval
    Air Station Key West in order to count airplanes flying in and out from
    the base, providing “an early warning” system in the unlikely event of a
    U.S. invasion. (Hernandez says this was a small part of the Wasp
    Network’s mission and, in any case, didn’t involve the theft of “secret”
    information.)

    And in Hernandez’s case, prosecutors charged, he also tipped off his
    Cuban handlers to flights by Brothers to the Rescue, headed by Bay of
    Pigs veteran Jose Basulto — an exile group that rescued “rafters”
    fleeing Cuba in the open seas and dropped anti-Castro leaflets over the
    island, violating Cuban airspace and infuriating the Castro government.

    In February 1996, after multiple warnings, the Cuban military shot down
    two of the planes, killing four pilots — and resulting in Hernandez’s
    conviction for conspiracy to commit murder.

    Hernandez’s association with the shootdown remains the most inflammatory
    part of his case. In the days since his release, the families of the
    slain pilots have expressed outrage that Hernandez should walk free;
    last week, the same day the Cuban Five were receiving their medals from
    President Castro, hundreds of Cuban exiles marched in Miami’s Little
    Havana to commemorate the Brothers to the Rescue pilots, and a silent
    vigil, with family members holding hands in a circle, was held at
    Florida State University. “This is very emotional for every single
    family member touched by this — to have what little justice you had
    taken away from you,” said Maggie Khuly, the sister of slain Brothers
    pilot Armando Alejandre Jr., about Hernandez’s release. “This is never
    going to go away.”

    Hernandez adamantly denies that he had any advance knowledge of the
    Cuban shootdown that day. (At least one of the federal appellate judges
    who reviewed his case concluded that the principal evidence against him
    — a message he sent warning one of his fellow spies who had infiltrated
    Brothers to the Rescue not to fly that day — was inconclusive.) Still,
    when asked what he would say to a still-grieving sister like Khuly, he
    responded that her brother shouldn’t have been flying anyway because
    Basulto had once been a terrorist himself, even though he had long since
    renounced violence.

    “I’m not going to go into whether that was the right decision or not,”
    he said about Cuba’s decision to shoot down the Brothers to the Rescue
    planes. “That’s not my call. I’m just explaining that Cuba has the right
    to see Basulto and the Brothers to the Rescue not as a humanitarian
    organization that they say they are. Can you imagine somebody like bin
    Laden now” — and here Herandez held up his right hand, as if he were
    taking an oath — “saying, ‘From now on, I’m going to be a pacifist, and
    I’m going to create an organization … just to drop some food’? Can
    you imagine a scenario like that?”

    U.S. intelligence sources told Yahoo News that the FBI finally got onto
    Hernandez and the Wasp Network through a cryptographer informant inside
    the Cuban intelligence service — Rolanda “Roly” Sarraff, the very same
    spy “asset” released by the Cubans in exchange for Hernandez. And after
    Hernandez and the rest of the Cuban Five were arrested in 1998 and held
    for 18 months in solitary confinement in a Miami detention center, the
    FBI did everything it could to flip Hernandez and his colleagues,
    repeatedly offering them deals to inform on their spymasters in Havana.

    But Hernandez and his Cuban Five colleagues held firm, emboldened, he
    said, by the words of Fidel Castro, who when asked about their arrest
    told a CNN reporter, “I can tell you one thing: We will never leave them
    behind.”

    “And that day, those statements reached us,” Hernandez said. “That was
    the day that changed everything for us. From that day on, we knew that
    nothing would break us.”

    Hernandez’s fortitude in the end seems to have paid off. He and the rest
    of the Cuban Five are now rock-star celebrities in Cuba, instantly
    recognized and cheered wherever they go. When they walked through the
    streets of Romerillo, one of Havana’s poorest neighborhoods, accompanied
    by a reporter, they were mobbed: Women embraced and kissed them,
    children beseeched them for their autographs and everyone wanted a
    picture taken with them.

    At one point, Hernandez and the group stopped by a small gold statuette
    shrine to San Lazaro, a patron saint in Cuba — for miracles. It has not
    gone unnoticed here in this communist, but still religious, country that
    San Lazaro Day is Dec. 17, the same day that Hernandez, Labanino and
    Guerrero were released from U.S. prisons.

    “The fact that we came back on Dec. 17 — so many Cubans say that’s not a
    coincidence,” Hernandez said, standing in front of the shrine.
    “Remember, through 16 years, many Cuban people prayed and asked San
    Lazaro for a miracle that the Five will one day come back. So who will
    tell those people that the miracle wasn’t granted by San Lazaro?”

    Does he believe that himself, he was asked. The veteran spy laughed and
    looked at the shrine. “All that matters to me is that I’m here. Who made
    it possible,” he said, looking up at the sky and throwing up his hands,
    “congratulations! Thank you! Whatever.”

    Source: Top Cuban spy released by Obama says he’s ready for his ‘next
    order’ from Castro regime – Yahoo News –
    http://news.yahoo.com/top-cuban-spy-released-by-obama-says-he-s-ready-for-his–next-order–from-castro-regime-211055253.html;_ylt=AwrBEiKXN_RU1hoAqmzQtDMD