Hero's welcome for Cuban 5

2015-06-21 14:01

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Johannesburg - Five former Cuban intelligence officers, informally named the Cuban Five, arrived in Johannesburg on Sunday morning, for a visit expressing gratitude for support during their imprisonment in the US.

“South Africa welcomes to its shores the five Cuban national heroes, namely, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramón Labañino, Fernando Gonzalez, Antonio Guerrero and René Gonzalez,” said Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela in a statement.

The men were greeted by a large crowd of supporters at OR Tambo International Airport.

“The purpose of their visit to South Africa is to thank the people and the government, including the tripartite alliance, who have used every available opportunity to call for their release,” said Monyela.

During their stay until July 3, the five would be thanked for their “sacrifices made during the war in Angola”, he said. The men had all served in Angola during the struggle against apartheid forces.

The five are scheduled to attend various events including a public participation programme hosted by Dirco and a meeting with the parliamentary portfolio committee on international relations.

The Cuban Five were convicted in 2001 on various charges, including conspiracy to commit espionage. One of the Cuban Five was released in 2011, one in February 2014, and the remaining three in December of the same year.

The final release followed an agreement between US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to improve the relationship between the two countries.

Monyela said that Cuba had also assisted in building South Africa following apartheid, such as training doctors. Currently, 3 000 South African medical students are in training in Cuba. Various Cuban professionals, especially those with technical skills, had also shared their expertise by coming to work in South Africa.

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