Article published on the 2008-12-19 Latest update 2008-12-20 10:29 TU
The "Cuban Five" as they are known were convicted of espionage in 2001 after being allegedly involved in the so-called Wasp Network, and were accused of exchanging information that led to two civilian planes being shot down.
Their defence was that they were monitoring anti-Castro Cuban exile groups in Miami, which they claim plotted violent action against their country. Their convictions were overturned but upheld on a further appeal this year.
On a visit to Brasilia on Thursday, Cuban President Raul Castro proposed the exchange after a meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during his first trip abroad since replacing his brother Fidel in February.
“We’ll send over there with families and all. Let them return our five heroes,” Castro said. "It is a gesture from both sides."
But the US State Department rejected the offer shortly afterwards. This comes after Castro’s recent appeals to US President-elect Barack Obama following a meeting of 33 countries from across Latin America and the Caribbean.
He requested the end of the embargo imposed on Cuba and the removal of sanctions brought in by President George Bush over the past five years.
Political activists are regularly jailed in Cuba for opposing the communist rule of the country, according to human rights groups. And dissidents in Havana criticised the President’s offer, claiming it was equivalent to blackmail.
Castro has stated that the relationship with the US will only improve through “unilateral gestures”.