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One of 'Cuban Five' spies to walk free today in Florida

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(Read caption) Olga Salanueva, wife of Rene Gonzalez, a Cuban citizen imprisoned in the US, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. Rene Gonzalez and four others, collectively known as the "Cuban Five," were convicted in 2001 of attempting to infiltrate US military installations in South Florida. Gonzalez, who holds dual US-Cuban citizenship, is set for release on Friday Oct. 7 from a federal prison in Marianna, Florida.

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When Rene Gonzalez, one of five Cuban agents reviled by Miami hardliners and celebrated by the Havana government and its supporters, walks out of a Miami prison today after serving 13 years of a 15 year sentence, where will he go and who will be there to greet him? This is a question someone in the Obama administration surely must have considered, because how they answer could cost them – and the Miami Dade Police Department – dearly.

The options seem relatively clear: either he goes home to Cuba and stays there (Mr. Gonzalez, who is a dual citizen, could remain in Cuba if he renounces his US citizenship), or he stays in Miami to serve out his probation. A Miami judge denied his request to serve out his parole in Cuba, but I’m not sure that ends the matter. Surely the administration has other means to bypass Miami and give Gonzalez the boot? It’s not hard to imagine the headache those who revile him most will create not just for Gonzalez but for the Miami-Dade police, and even for the administration. And here's a high-ranking member of the US Congress (Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) who isn't afraid to stir the pot:

Rene Gonzalez, like the regime he serves, is an enemy of America. He has American blood on his hands and dedicated his life to harming our country on behalf of a regime that is a State Sponsor of Terrorism . . . The Obama administration needs to take every precaution to protect US security and the American people from this enemy of our nation.

(Incidentally, a day after the 35th anniversary of the 1976 Cubana airliner bombing, one has to ask whether Ms. Ros-Lehtinen has ever used the phrase “blood on his hands” to describe the masterminds of the October 6, 1976, Cubana airliner bombing, Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, both of whom eluded justice and lived out their days as free men in Miami.)

No matter what your opinion of Gonzalez or his crime – and he did commit one by working for his government without registering with ours – it’s hard to see any altercation over his supervised release playing out well for the Obama administration. It would draw attention to the Cuba issue right as the administration would probably prefer it to fade away (re-election, anyone?), and has police vs. community elements face-off/debacle – remember Elian Gonzalez, folks? – written all over it, but instead of centering on a sweet-faced little boy, the crisis would revolve around a foreign government agent walking the streets of Miami. And in that harsh light of sudden media attention, the administration would end up catching flack for not shipping Gonzalez off. After all, the best way to “protect” America from someone is to keep him off US soil.

If the administration has any means – which probably entails being able to speedily deport Gonzalez (Gonzalez is only willing to renounce his US citizenship if he doesn’t have to go through a long immigration process to get deported after doing so) – sending Gonzalez back to Cuba averts potential conflicts in Miami, and takes that issue off the table.

It also offers Cuba that reciprocal humanitarian gesture to which Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez alluded, though I certainly wouldn’t expect the administration to frame it that way. I’m not convinced Raul Castro’s government rejected waived supervised parole for Gonzalez as a potential gesture to win early release for Alan Gross, who has served nearly two years of his 15 year term. Perhaps they just rejected the messenger. There’s always the possibility that the Cuban government won’t respond in kind, which I think would be a huge tactical mistake (if the goal is to move forward on an incremental improvement in relations). But at least no one will question whether we tried.

--- Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note, a project of the "US-Cuba Policy Initiative,” directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.

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