News Analysis

Five Cuban nationals came to Florida in the mid-1990s to defend their nation against terror. What they were trying to prevent is illustrated by the recently reported misdeeds of three men from Miami.

Santiago Alvarez is a Bay of Pigs veteran and Miami construction mogul. He gained publicity in August 2004 by sending two airplanes to fetch terrorist Luis Posada and three others from Panama, where they had been jailed since 2000 for preparing to kill a visiting Fidel Castro. The Panamanian president released them prematurely and Posada, no U.S. citizen, was delivered to Honduras.

Posada arrived in Miami from Mexico last March, reportedly on Alvarez’s yacht. Alvarez provided him with lawyers and talked with the press on his behalf.

Santiago Alvarez is now in jail. On Nov. 18, Broward County police confiscated 20 automatic weapons, plus grenades, a grenade launcher, ammunition, gas masks, and a silencer, all belonging to Alvarez. As employee Oswaldo Mitat was also being arrested, he blurted out, “I love the United States … these guns weren’t meant to be used against this country.” The two men face seven charges of illegal weapons possession and twice have been denied bail.

Right-wing Cuban Americans have been demonstrating against the arrests and, on Dec. 8, hundreds of them rallied inside a church. They were joined by elected officials. Alvarez’s supporters are incensed because he will be tried in Fort Lauderdale, not Miami. Prosecutors are apparently looking to convict him.

Former prosecutor Kendal Coffey told a reporter that it’s difficult to find a Miami jury “that will hand down a guilty verdict on defendants presented as freedom fighters.” Coffey is now Alvarez’s lawyer. He added, “An administration that relies so heavily on Cuban American votes shouldn’t have to flee from Cuba American juries.”

The case of Santiago Alvarez is good news for the Cuban Five. It demonstrates that bias shapes the outcome of Miami trials relating to Cuba. Last August, appeals court judges overturned the trial of the five, basing their decision on quite similar views of Miami prejudice. The U.S. is appealing that decision.

Posada, who entered the U.S. illegally, is being held in El Paso and Alvarez’s difficulties may dash his hopes for parole. Washington refuses to extradite him to Venezuela, where he is wanted for downing a Cuban airliner in 1976, and has yet to find another country to take him in. Now Posada takes on guilt by virtue of association with Alvarez.

Hector Pesquera’s terrorist proclivities put him, too, on the other side in the good fight waged by the Cuban Five. A Nov. 10 report in the Miami-based El Nuevo Herald placed the former head of the Miami FBI office, now retired, in Darien, Panama, on Sept. 3-6, 2003. He apparently joined Venezuelans, Colombians and a CIA operative to plan the killings of Venezuelan leaders, and the alleged scheming led to the assassination of Danilo Anderson on Nov. 18, 2004. Anderson, a Venezuelan prosecutor, he had been preparing to try plotters who took part in the failed April 2003 coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez.

Pesquera had led the pre-trial investigation of the Cuban Five, and news photos showed him joining Miami extremists in celebrating their initial convictions. Later on, Pesquera allegedly fixed an investigation of several Miami gunmen heading for Venezuela in a yacht, thereby derailing their trial on charges of planning to kill Fidel Castro there.

On Dec. 6, Jose Basulto, head of the Brothers to the Rescue organization, provided some inadvertent education as to the need for what the Cuban Five did in Florida. He told Miami television, “In 1962, I fired a cannon at a hotel in Cuba and so far no one has come to question me. The U.S. authorities themselves trained me in the use of the cannon and they supplied me with weapons on another occasion.” Basulto fired from a speedboat about 200 yards offshore, hitting the hotel.

Here’s a New Year’s wish, or perhaps fantasy. The Cuban Five have a new trial. Alvarez — and maybe Posada? — is a witness. The defense asks Alvarez about his reported presence aboard a speedboat in 1971 from whence issued gunfire that maimed two Cuban girls.

And was that Alvarez’s voice on the telephone four years ago, as the Cubans allege, instructing an underling, then in Cuban police hands, about bombing Havana’s Tropicana nightclub?