HAVANA -- The first member of a Cuban spy ring to walk free from prison in the United States thanked islanders Friday for their support during his 13 years behind bars and vowed to keep pushing for the release of the other four.
Rene Gonzalez, a 55-year-old dual U.S.-Cuban citizen who left a federal lockup in the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 7, spoke through a home video that was broadcast and rebroadcast on Cuban state television and government-run websites.
"It is truly difficult to address people who are so loved and who you feel a part of through a camera, but I had to communicate with you and say how grateful I am for everything," Gonzalez said.
"We have felt we were in good company from the thousands of messages, the letters from children, all the workers' and students' groups who have sent messages from Cuba, the support that has never been lacking and sustained us through these years of injustice," he added.
Gonzalez and the other four members of the "Cuban Five" were convicted in 2001 of being part of a ring known as the "Wasp Network" that sought to spy on U.S. military installations in South Florida, Cuban exile groups and politicians opposed to Castro's government.
The Cuban government hails the men as heroes, and they and their supporters have long insisted they were only in the U.S. to detect and prevent violent attacks against their country, mainly by Miami-based exile groups. They also complained that Miami was an unfair location for the trial.
Gonzalez vowed Friday to lobby for the others' release.
"The fact that I am now out of prison only means an end to one avenue of abuse to which I had been subjected. But we still have four brothers who we have to rescue," he said. "They don't deserve to be where they are."
Gonzalez, his family and the Cuban government asked that he be allowed to go directly to Cuba, but a judge ordered him to serve three years of probation in the United States.
Gonzalez's wife and Cuban authorities have expressed concern for his safety in Florida, which is home to a large Cuban exile community and the anti-Castro groups he was monitoring.