Cubans march to U.S. mission to demand release of spies

Havana, Sep 12 (EFE).- Hundreds of people marched to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana on Thursday as part of a "yellow ribbon" appeal to Washington to release four Cuban intelligence agents held since 1998.

The procession was led by Rene Gonzalez, the only one of the "Cuban Five" who has been allowed to return to the island.

Many of the marchers carried yellow ribbons, as requested by Gonzalez last week when he announced the "special day," chosen to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the five agents' arrest in Florida.

"The symbolism of the yellow ribbons has a strong effect on the psyche of Americans," Gonzalez told reporters Thursday.

"For me, this signifies a starting point to keep fighting for them (his four colleagues) to return," the 57-year-old intelligence officer said.

Gonzalez and the other four - Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon LabaƱino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando Gonzalez - were arrested Sept. 12, 1998, and convicted three years later by a federal jury in Miami.

Gonzalez, a Chicago native, was paroled after serving 13 years and was allowed to return to Cuba earlier this year after renouncing his U.S. citizenship.

The other four spies remain in prison and one of them, Hernandez, is serving two life sentences for Cuba's downing of two small aircraft belonging to Miami-based exile group Brothers to the Rescue, which resulted in four deaths.

The Cuban Five insisted they were spying on Miami's Cuban exile community, not the U.S. government.

Cuba says the men were sent to Florida in the wake of several terror bombings in Havana allegedly masterminded by anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA operative.

Havana has suggested an exchange of what are now the Cuban Four for U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross, who is serving a 15-year sentence on the island after he was convicted of subversion.

Washington rejects talk of a swap, instead demanding that Cuba release Gross without conditions.