Cuba's Fidel Castro met this weekend with the three intelligence agents freed by the United States as part of last December's historic rapprochement, state media said Monday.
In a letter published in several state newspapers, the 88-year-old father of the Cuban Revolution said he had hosted the men at his home in Havana on Saturday, "73 days after they set foot back on Cuban soil."
"I was happy for hours (listening) to marvelous stories of the group's heroism," he wrote.
In photos of the meeting posted on state daily Granma's website, the Cuban ex-president appears visibly thin in a black-and-blue tracksuit, seated in a chair surrounded by the three agents and two others who had previously been released by the United States.
Before handing power to his younger brother Raul in 2006, Castro regularly made fiery calls for the release of the so-called "Cuban Five," a group arrested in Miami in September 1998 and convicted in 2001 of spying for Cuba's communist government.
Havana admits the men were intelligence agents, but insists they were spying on militant Cuban exile groups, not the US government.
Castro said in his letter that they were "anti-terrorist heroes who never harmed the United States (and) tried to prevent terrorist acts against our people."
Two members of the group had their sentences reduced and returned home in 2013 and February 2014.
The remaining three arrived back in Cuba on December 17, the day presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced a landmark thaw in US-Cuban ties after more than five decades of Cold War enmity.
When Fidel Castro failed to make an appearance at the festivities to welcome the men home, it fueled rumors about his health -- put to rest only last month with the publication of new photos of the aging leader, the first in nearly six months.