Three militant Cuban exiles in South Florida on Wednesday denied a Havana allegation that they ordered four men arrested in Cuba to attack military installations — the first such violent plot reported in more than a decade.
A Cuban Interior Ministry statement said Miami residents Raibel Pacheco Santos, Obdulio Rodríguez González, Félix Monzón Álvarez and José Ortega Amador were arrested April 26 but gave few other details.
The four men “admitted that they planned to attack military installations with the objective of promoting violent activities,” the statement said, adding that three of them had traveled to Cuba in 2013 to study and plan their attack.
Cuba’s announcement may be linked to its inclusion last week in a U.S. list of countries that support international terrorism, the three Havana spies in U.S. prisons and perhaps even the desperation of an elderly exile, analysts in Miami said.
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Pacheco, 31, a Hialeah resident, registered a “Cuban Liberation Force Inc.” with the Florida Department of State in 2009 and listed its purpose as helping “the people in Cuba to win back their democracy and their lost liberties.”
The only post on its blog says the organization was “founded at the request of members of the armed forces who are inside Cuba, as well as members of organizations and the people” with its only goal being “the toppling of the regime.”
Rodriguez and Monzón attended some meetings of exile militants in Miami six or seven years ago but were not well known in the community and were not known to be members of any particular anti-Castro organization, said Miami radio host Hector Fabian.
The Interior Ministry statement late Tuesday said the four men detained in Cuba confessed that their plans for “terrorist actions” have been “organized under the direction” of Miami exiles Santiago Álvarez Fernández, Osvaldo Mitat and Manuel Alzugaray.
“This, I did not do,” said Alvarez, 72, a long-time militant exile and wealthy real estate developer imprisoned from 2005 to 2009 for illegal possession of firearms allegedly stockpiled for raids on Cuba.
He does not recall ever meeting the four men, Alvarez told El Nuevo Herald, and he suspects that the Cuban allegation is part of “something very sinister — an attempt to link peaceful dissidents to this plot and put them in jail.”
Alvarez declined comment on which dissidents might be targeted, but is known to donate to Miami groups that support opposition activists on the island, including such Martha Beatriz Roque and Jorge Luis Perez Garcia, known as Antunez.
Mitat, 72, a car salesman who served nearly two years in prison on the same gun charges as Alvarez, said he knew “nothing about nothing” regarding the four men arrested. “I am very bad with names,” he said.
Alzugaray, 71, could not be reached for comment. The surgeon heads the Miami Medical Mission, volunteer exile doctors who have helped dissidents as well as the “contra” guerrillas that fought Nicaragua’s Marxist Sandinista regime in the 1980s.
The Cuban statement noted that Alvarez, Mitat and Alzugaray had “close ties” to Luis Posada Carriles, 86, a Miami exile wanted by Havana for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 passengers and crew. Posada’s lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, said his client flatly denied any role in the alleged plot.
The Interior Ministry statement said Cuban authorities will “carry out the necessary efforts with the proper U.S. authorities to investigate these acts and avert … actions of terrorist elements and organizations in that country (that) put in danger the lives of people and the security of both nations.”
The U.S. State Department and the FBI in Miami had no comment on the Cuban announcement.
Cuban television’s Mesa Redonda news analysis program Wednesday evening portrayed the case as linked to U.S. government efforts to support dissidents and push for democracy on the island — what the Cuban government calls “regime change.”
Analyst Reinaldo Taladrid said he had no independent information on the four men but believed they were “mercenaries.” He said they likely have criminal records in the United States and briefly mentioned a report that one had a fraud conviction.
Former Radio Marti director Pedro Roig said it was no coincidence that Havana announced the four arrests the week after the State Department’s annual list of countries that support terrorism included Cuba yet again.
“The terrorists are not in Cuba. They are in the United States,” said Mesa Redonda host Randy Alonso.
Cuba, which has been on the list since 1982, was hoping the Obama administration would take it off the list and open the way for warmer bilateral relations, said Roig, now with the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami.
Miami activist Ramon Saul Sanchez speculated Havana may be trying to reinforce its demands that the three spies in U.S. jails be freed because they were only monitoring terror plots by exiles. The “Wasp Network” also monitored two U.S. military bases.
Alvarez said that the Interior Ministry’s claim that three of the men had visited Cuba last year — presumably legally — seemed odd for a group that was allegedly planning to attack military installations. “Where’s their guns?” he asked.
At least six armed infiltrations of Cuba were launched from Miami in the early 1990s, when the island was reeling under the collapse of the Soviet Union and some exiles believed that they could spark a broad revolt against the communist government.
The last such infiltration reported was in 2001, when Máximo Valdés Pradera, Santiago Padrón Quintero and Iosvani Solís de la Torre were captured carrying pistols and semi-automatic rifles. Interior Ministry officials at the time made public a recording of Solis on the phone with Alvarez allegedly discussing the bombing of the famed Tropicana cabaret.
Alvarez said Wednesday that he no longer supports armed attacks on Cuban targets. “In this day and age, the tactics for opposing the dictatorship have changed,” he said.
Roig speculated that the plot to attack military installations, if true, may be part of some desperate last attempt by an anti-Castro activist. “Think of the calendar: The youngest people in this struggle are 70-plus years old,” he said.