HAVANA (AP) — When Fernando Gonzalez walks out of an Arizona prison next week, the "Cuban Five" will be down to three.
Intelligence agents in the employ of Fidel Castro's Cuba, they were arrested in the United States in 1998 and given terms ranging from 15 years to consecutive life sentences on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents. A federal appeals court upheld their convictions but voided three of their sentences, including Gonzalez's, after finding they had gathered no "top secret" information.
Rene Gonzalez, no relation, was the first of the Cuban Five to go free in 2011. He was ordered to remain in the United States for more than a year after release. But U.S. officials say Fernando Gonzalez will be immediately handed to immigration authorities upon his release for the start of deportation proceedings.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Rene Gonzalez said he hopes his comrade will soon join him in his new role as the public face of Cuba's campaign to demand the other agents' release.
"I don't know how he will feel when he comes. Probably he'll need some rest, but I hope to see him at my side in this battle," Gonzalez said on a recent morning in Havana, clad in a smart striped shirt and black pants. "I think he will be a good reinforcement."
Rene Gonzalez was an unknown young pilot in 1990 when he pretended to steal a crop duster and flew to Florida, using cover as a Cuban defector to spy on targets in the United States.
Rene and Fernando Gonzalez, along with the others, were convicted in 2001 of being part of a ring known as the "Wasp Network," given the job by Cuba's government of spying on U.S. military installations in South Florida, Cuban exile groups and politicians opposed to Castro's government.
Havana maintains the agents posed no threat to U.S. sovereignty and were only monitoring militant exiles to prevent terror attacks in Cuba, the best known of which was a series of bombings of Havana hotels that killed an Italian tourist in 1997.
In 2013, Rene Gonzalez finally returned to his country of allegiance, if not birth, when a U.S. judge allowed him to renounce his American citizenship and cut short three years' supervised release.
He is no longer just an anonymous husband and father of two. His and the other agents' faces grace billboards across Cuba, where they are lionized as heroes for their clandestine monitoring of militant anti-Castro exiles.
"Now everyone recognizes me in the street," Gonzalez said.
He has spent the last nine months or so living a relatively quiet existence, readjusting to family life with his wife, Olga Salanueva, and their teenage daughter, Ivette, in a small apartment in central Havana. Their other daughter, Irma, has grown up, married and has a child of her own.
But at a Latin American and Caribbean regional summit last month, Gonzalez was firmly in the spotlight talking to visiting foreign media and arguing Cuba's case to "free the Five."
Despite being locked up during the years when the Internet came of age, he opened a Twitter account this month that he uses mostly to talk up the campaign in both English and Spanish. On Valentine's Day he tweeted a photo of him and his wife grinning broadly: "And (hashtag)love overcame hatred. They will never destroy the capacity for love of the 5."