Granma published 13 images of Fidel Castro’s meeting with the five intelligence agents who spent years in prison in the U.S., becoming heroes at home and a major source of friction between the two countries.
MEXICO CITY — Photographs of Fidel Castro meeting with the five Cuban intelligence agents who until recently were imprisoned in the U.S., becoming national heroes and a major point of contention between the two countries in the process, were published by Granma, the communist party’s official newspaper on Monday.
The 88-year-old former Cuban leader looks animated and engaged in the 13 images, the second batch of photographs of him published in the last month. In the first, which emerged shortly after the most recent bout of death rumors that frequently shadow him, Castro appeared with the student leader at the University of Havana, discussing a wide range of topics that included the Cuban doctors’ fight against Ebola and the cost of food.
Wearing his signature sweatpant ensemble, Castro appears to be listening intently to the five men, who sit around in a circle sipping water and gesturing excitedly. The agents were recently awarded the title of “Heroes of the Republic.”
The agents, whose faces have been plastered throughout Cuba in billboards honoring their work, were arrested in 1998 in Miami by FBI agents for conspiracy to commit espionage. The men had infiltrated exile groups and military installations in Florida at a time when anti-Castro groups were carrying out attacks on the Caribbean island.
“None of the Five Heroes fulfilled their task in search of applause, prize or glory,” said Castro in a letter accompanying the photographs. “They, their wives, their parents, their children, their siblings, and their fellow citizens, we have a legitimate right to feel proud.”
The last three of the “Cuban Five” — two were released earlier after completing their prison sentences — were swapped for Alan Gross, an American contractor who spent four years in prison on accusations of being a spy, in December. The exchange was part of a historic diplomatic breakthrough between the two antagonistic countries.
The meeting between Castro and the five agents took place 73 days after the last of the former prisoners returned to Cuba. Three of them “consumed 15 long years of their youth, breathing in humid air, smelly and disgusting, in the basement of a Yankee prison after being convicted by venal judges,” wrote Castro.
In a letter to students shortly after the deal was announced, Castro said he did not trust U.S. politics, though he added that a peaceful solution to the conflict was everyone’s responsibility.
Upon his release, Gerardo Hernandez, one of the five agents, told Yahoo News that he is a soldier and that he is “ready to receive my next order. I can serve anywhere my country believes I am useful.”
Castro, in his brief letter accompanying the photographs, said he would ask the five former prisoners to invest part of their “enormous prestige” in something that will be of great usefulness to Cuba.
In recent weeks, officials from both countries have met to discuss the re-opening of embassies, environmental protection, human rights, and the removal of Cuba from the U.S.’ state-sponsor of terrorism list.