Former president and revolutionary leader Fidel Castro met with five Cuban convicted spies who were the focus of a years-long political battle with the United States.

The members of the so-called “Cuban Five” met with Castro for more than five hours on Saturday, according to a letter by the former leader posted on the official daily Granma on Monday.

“The ‘Five Anti-terrorist Heroes,’ who never did any harm to the United States, tried to prevent terrorist acts against our people, organized by US intelligence agencies that world opinion well recognizes,” Castro wrote in the letter. “None of these ‘Five Heroes’ performed their tasks in search of applause or honor. They received their honorable title because they never sought it.”

He continued: “I was happy for hours yesterday. I heard wonderful stories of heroism by the group lead by Gerardo (Hernandez) and seconded by all, including the painter and poet, whom I met while he was creating one of his works at the aerodrome in Santiago de Cuba.”

The letter is accompanied by photos of the meeting.

The five spies – Hernandez, Rene Gonzalez, Fernando Gonzalez, Ramon Labañino and Antonio Guerrero – were part of the “Wasp Network” and were sent by Castro to act as spies in South Florida.

They were arrested by the FBI in September 1998 and convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents.

Hernandez, Labañino and Guerrero were returned to Cuba on Dec. 17 under a prisoner exchange, while the two Gonzalez’s, who are not related, were already free after completing their U.S. prison sentences.

Cuba released USAID contractor Alan Gross on the same day in exchange for the agents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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