NYT Article of Oct 17 re the Five
- October 17, 2002, Thursday
Havana Enshrines Heroes of Espionage
By DAVID GONZALEZ (NYT) 1032 words
HAVANA, Oct. 14 -- Reni Gonzalez's smiling face beams from several small
picture frames in his family's living room, where his 4-year-old daughter,
Ivette, scampers about with her friends. When his wife, Olga Salanueva,
takes Ivette outside, she has to explain why Papi's portrait appears, with
four others, on T-shirts, billboards and book covers.
"Her father is everywhere, but not where he should be, which is at
home," Ms. Salanueva said. "These are difficult things to explain. It is
sad for a growing child."
In Cuba, the government calls the five men heroes of the revolution and
lauds them for fighting against Miami-based exile groups. In the United
States, however, they were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage,
among other charges, and sentenced in December to terms ranging from 15
years to life.
The case of the five, who remain in prison while their convictions are on
appeal, has provided the Cuban government with its latest ideological
battleground against the United States, diplomats and political analysts
say. As with Elian Gonzalez, the shipwrecked child ultimately reunited
with his father in Cuba, the government has made them the focus of
rallies, televised discussions and appeals to the international community.
But diplomats say it has proved difficult to generate much sympathy for
grown men who admitted to having worked for Cuban intelligence. Arrest,
they point out, is a normal risk in that line of work.
"They all knew what they were getting into," said the military attachi
at one embassy.
Although the arrests occurred in 1998, the case had until last year
received scant attention in the official media here. Now Cuba is relying
upon the jitters of the post-Sept. 11 world to portray the five men as
protectors of the homeland who infiltrated Miami groups to stop or prevent
"After Sept. 11, it should be easier to explain what these men did,"
said Miguel Alvarez, an adviser to the president of the National Assembly.
"The United States in its rhetoric puts a name on terrorism and calls it
global terrorism. When it is not global, does that mean it is not
terrorism? What comes from Florida to Cuba, since it is not global it does
not need to be watched?"
Foreign diplomats, for their part, have questioned Cuba's sincerity in
fighting terrorism, faulting it recently for providing false leads on
The Cuban case is laid out in a new Web site, www.antiterroristas.cu,
where the foreign minister will participate in a live forum on Friday.
According to documents on the Web site, and to other official declarations
on the case, the men did not receive an impartial trial in Miami, and they
never obtained information that threatened the national security of the
United States. Instead, advocates say, they obtained public information or
reported on the activities of exile groups like Brothers to the Rescue or
the Democracy Movement.
Cuban officials also said the men's activities were justified by past
violence, like the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airplane that killed 73 people,
or the string of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997.
The government has recently stepped up its campaign for the five, calling
2002 "The Year of the Heroes Imprisoned by the Empire." Hundreds of
thousands of demonstrators have marched past the offices of the American
government in Havana to demand freedom for the five, and reporters
covering the visit of former President Jimmy Carter asked him his opinion
of the case.
Ms. Salanueva says the public support has helped her get through a
difficult time. She has traveled to Chile to speak to a solidarity group
on the plight of her husband, who is serving a 15-year sentence in
Pennsylvania. Similar groups have emerged in 50 countries, according to
the government, although it is unclear how many people might be involved.
Like the wives and mothers of the other four prisoners, Ms. Salanueva has
been honored by the Cuban government, which put her up in an apartment
when she was deported from the United States two years after her husband's
She said Mr. Gonzalez was born in Chicago in 1956, but returned to Cuba
with his parents in 1961. He moved to Miami in 1990 and worked as a flight
instructor, also joining exile groups like Brothers to the Rescue, which
patrolled the waters for refugees on rafts.
"I had nothing to do with those activities," she said of his contacts
with the exile groups. "We never had extensive conversations about that.
It is not true that he and the others are spies. They did not take out any
secrets. They protected this country."
"When I learned of that work he did, I was proud," she said. "He had
every possibility of triumphing in life because he is very intelligent. He
risked all that, including his life, to defend the achievements of the
She and her elder daughter, Irma, 18, said they were holding up despite
the distance, citing the help of a psychologist who visits often and was
present during a recent interview.
As for Ivette, she does not really know her father, Ms. Salanueva said.
The girl has been slowly learning about him from phone calls and from a
17-page letter he wrote to her in May.
Ms. Salanueva brought out the letter, which she said was difficult to read
"I have to read it many times," she said, adding that Ivette had a lot
of questions about it. " 'What is the U.S.? What is a country? Why did we
come here?' "
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company