WASHINGTON — Cuban leader Raul Castro would consider exchanging dissidents held in Cuban jails for five Cuban intelligence agents imprisoned in the United States as spies, a top Vatican official said in an interview.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano in an interview published Friday that the subject came up during a meeting he had with the new Cuban leader.
Speculation that Cuba might be interested in such a swap has been widespread in Havana since the Cuban government launched a massive campaign for the release of the five Cuban agents convicted in a Miami federal court in 2001. But Bertone's interview is the first confirmation that the Cuban government is interested in an exchange.
The five Cubans are serving U.S. jail sentences on charges of spying for Havana. The Cuban government insists that the five were sent to Miami to infiltrate anti-Castro groups and avert terrorist attacks on Cuba and were not spying on U.S. agencies.
The State Department reacted coolly to the idea.
"It is important to underscore that these prisoners in the United States were convicted through due process of U.S. law and sentenced for their crimes," said Heide Bronke, a State Department spokeswoman. "The political prisoners have committed no crimes. There is no equivalence between the two."