On Jan. 6, federal authorities arrested husband and wife Carlos Alvarez and Elsa Prieto, professors at Miami’s Florida International University (FIU). Proponents of dialogue between Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits, the couple frequently take student groups to Cuba. Alvarez, 61, is an associate professor of educational leadership. Prieto, 55, is a coordinator for the university’s counseling program.

Prosecutors accuse the two of providing the Cuban government with information on anti-Cuban organizations in Miami. They are charged with failing to register as agents of a foreign government, and face 10-year jail terms plus fines.

The FBI questioned them in June 2005, but authorities made no moves against them for six months. Now U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton has ordered them held without bail because of a presumed risk of flight to Cuba.

The pair has reportedly been kept in solitary confinement at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. No bail hearing or trial date has been set.

Alvarez and Prieto have five children, and Prieto is responsible for care of her 80-year-old parents.

Miami news media are feeding an atmosphere of prejudice against the two, terming them “spies” although no evidence has been presented that they communicated military or other government data to Cuba.

Prosecutors say Alvarez confessed to “contacts with the Cuban government.” In a widely publicized comment, prosecutor Alexander Acosta asserted, “Whenever spies transmit any type of information to the Cuban Government, there is danger for the United States.”

According to a local television station, Acosta said Alvarez “further abused our trust and betrayed our community by coordinating and leading a student exchange program to Cuba, where the opportunity to further manipulate and indoctrinate students was possible.”

Reacting to the charges, FIU Professor Lisandro Perez told the Miami Herald, ‘‘It sort of revives the argument that the talking, the dialogue, the academic exchanges with Cuba, which the so-called left has promoted, should not be supported. … It gives greater ammunition to that argument.”

Alvarez’ lawyer Steven Chaykin noted that the information the couple was dealing with “was at public disposal to anyone in the South Florida community. We have yet to see if one can be labeled an ‘agent’ if their only crime is the exchange of public information, and if so, this becomes a case against the right to freedom of speech.”

Andres Gomez, a Cuba solidarity activist in Miami, believes the arrests are aimed at intimidating moderate Cuban Americans. Also in the mix, he says, are the prosecutor’s political ambitions and a power play at the university by right-wing Cubans.

Gomez says U.S. officials may have made the arrests to placate right-wing Cubans enraged by the jailing of millionaire Santiago Alvarez, a protector of Cuban exile terrorist Luis Posada Carilles, on charges of illegally harboring terrorist weapons.

Miami attorney Amaury Cruz says the U.S. government may be seeking to influence judges presently hearing the appeals of the Cuban Five, suggesting to the judges that “Cuban agents” are ubiquitous in Miami.