December 8, 2009 / 9:49 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. judge reduces Cuban spy's life jail sentence

(L-R) Adriana Perez (wife of Gerardo Hernandez), Elizabeth Palmeiro (wife of Ramon Labanino), Olga Salanueva (wife of Rene Gonzalez) and Irma Sehwerert (mother of Rene Gonzalez) hold a news conference at the International Press Center in Havana March 12, 2007. REUTERS/Claudia Daut

MIAMI (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday reduced the prison term for a Cuban spy from a life sentence to 30 years in a high-profile espionage case that has strained already hostile ties between Havana and Washington.

U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard cut the sentence of Ramon Labanino, also known as Luis Medina, from a life term to 30 years, an assistant to the judge told Reuters.

A second convicted spy, Fernando Gonzalez, also known as Ruben Campa, who is serving a 19-year term, was due to be resentenced later on Tuesday.

U.S. prosecutors said both men were part of a Cuban espionage ring that had sought to penetrate U.S. military facilities and had spied on the Cuban exile community in Florida.

The original sentences imposed by Lenard against Labanino and Gonzalez were thrown out as excessively harsh last year by a U.S. appeals court, which argued the Cuban agents had not succeeded in actually sending back top secret information, despite their conspiracy to do so.

Labanino and Gonzalez were arrested in 1998 along with three other Cuban agents. Prosecutors said they formed the so-called “Wasp Network” sent to the United States to infiltrate exile groups opposed to Cuba’s communist government, then led by Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro, now 83, handed over the Cuban presidency last year to his younger brother, Raul Castro, 78. U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants to try to improve U.S.-Cuban ties after a half century of hostility.

The case of the five spies has long been a point of contention between the United States and Cuba, which demands their release, hails them as heroes and says they were trying to prevent “terrorist” attacks by exile extremists.

In October, one of the five, Antonio Guerrero, had his sentence reduced from life to about 22 years.

Reporting by Tom Brown and Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Anthony Boadle

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