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The Spies Who Loved Me: Los Cinco, Alan Gross and Faith

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And then, there were four.

Unbeknownst to most Americans (and the rest of the world), Los cinco (The Cuban Five) are a group of Cuban intelligence agents caught and incarcerated for spying on U.S. territory in 1998. They are considered national heroes in Cuba, and every man, woman and child on the island knows their story of walking through the Valley of the Shadow, and of fearing no Evil.

One of them, René González, was paroled in October 2011 after serving 13 years in prison. He was freed and given three-year probation to be served in the U.S. On Monday, March 19, a U.S. Judge granted his request for permission to visit his ailing brother in Cuba for two weeks. He arrived in Havana airport on Friday, March 30, two days after Pope Benedict XVI left Cuba.

Alan Gross may be more familiar to most people on both sides of the Florida Straights. The American social (albeit, political) worker was caught and incarcerated for giving away telecommunication equipment to private members of the Jewish community in Cuba. Though the Cuban government has been accused of many things on this case, it has not bee labelled anti-Semitic. You see, satellite and Internet communications are strictly controlled by the State. The crime was civil, not religious. He was sentenced to 15 years for crimes against the State.

For many years now, both governments and assorted international institutions have addressed the fate of both Los cinco and Alan Gross, especially after their corresponding cases reached each country's Supreme Court (the Cubans' appeal was denied in 2009, the American's was confirmed in 2011). In essence, it has turned into a game of Chicken.

You would have expected great fanfare and gloating by the Cuban government once Mr. González touched down in Cuba. Perhaps even a photo-op with Fidel and his González (Elian) and Raúl with his (René). But the subdued reaction was unprecedented: his arrival was reported once he had arrived and left the airport, it was labelled a 'private visit', and it was the very last news item on the program.

Mr. Gross has been largely absent from Cuban media. Once his trial in 2011 took place, there was scant mention of his case. And the little recent attention has been aimed at specifically comparing both cases. Curiously, he is always labelled "the American citizen, Alan Gross," never 'spy' or 'terrorist.' Furthermore, the Cuban government has always expressed their desire to arrive at a humanitarian accord on his case.

The other side of the coin, of course, is what they would like on exchange.

Diplomacy -- Vatican, American and Cuban -- is, perhaps, at work here. There was a flurry of meetings in Rome, Washington and Havana in February and March around Mr. Gross' case. The most public being the visit of Senators Leahy and Shelby to Havana on February 23rd. What options were discussed, no one really knows.

Leniency of any sort, as far as the sentence of Los cinco is concerned, has always been off the table. Unfortunately for Cuba, a sentence handed down by a U.S. court can be appealed to a higher court, but not politically expedited.

Well, not on an election year.

What is much more flexible are the conditions of probation. Judge Joan Lenard's unexpected ruling allowing Mr. González to travel to Cuba is a case in point: there is absolutely nothing but faith to guarantee his return.

Nothing, except the Cuban government.

Being labelled a "Hero of the Revolution" is both a blessing and a curse. Los cinco's families have been given privileges and responsibilities as a result of their loved ones' sacrifices. Now, perhaps, Mr. González will be asked to be a hero again. As a sign of good faith.

The Holy See has asked for more access to public media in Cuba. They have asked for a higher role in education. They have asked for many things, publicly, except human rights. Theirs is a politics of service, a politics of faith. And yet, diplomatic cables (read Wikileaks) have drawn back the curtain on their approach toward the U.S.-Cuba conflict: speak softly and carry a big cross. This seems to work much better than a stick, it would appear.

Will Mr. Gross see his family soon on humanitarian grounds? We'll have to wait and see.

Will Mr. González return to serve the rest of his probation in the U.S.?

If we consider Heberto Padilla's 1968 poem, "In Hard Times", the answer to the latter question will likely be 'yes.'