Alleged Cuban agents plead not guilty in Miami

Campaign News | Friday, 20 January 2006

Case may be linked to of the Cuban Five, says Alarcon

MIAMI 20 Jan: Two Florida academics pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of working as covert Cuban agents who funneled information on government officials and Cuban exile groups to Havana for nearly three decades.

Carlos Alvarez, a 61-year-old psychology professor at Florida International University, and his wife, Elsa Alvarez, 55, a social worker at the school, entered the pleas before a U.S. magistrate in Miami, a court official said.

Both naturalized U.S. citizens from Cuba, the couple was indicted in December on charges of acting as foreign agents without notifying the U.S. government.

Prosecutors say they used their positions at the university to attempt to recruit potential spies for Cuba and informed Havana on public attitudes and key players in Miami's exile community, the heart of opposition to Cuban President Fidel Castro and his communist government.

The indictment marked the latest prosecution of suspected Cuban spies.

The most prominent recent case was that of the "Cuban five," convicted in 2001 of infiltrating military bases and exile groups. An appeals court has agreed to review the convictions.

Carlos and Elsa Alvarez were being held without bond.

President of Cuban parliament questions spy arrests

A top Cuban official said on Monday that this month's jailing of two Florida academics on charges they spied for Cuba for three decades was "strange" and ``worrisome."

In the government's first public reaction to the case, Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcón questioned the timing of the married couple's arrests, which came as a federal appeals court prepared to rehear arguments in the case of five other Cubans accused of being secret agents of the Cuban government.

"This story comes across as strange and very worrisome because the FBI has supposedly known since June what they said about their activities," Alarcón told journalists concerning Carlos Alvarez, 61, and his 55-year-old wife, Elsa.

The pair reportedly provided voluntary statements to the FBI last summer about their lengthy contacts with Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence.

"So why come out with this case now? Obviously, it has to do with something that goes beyond these two people," Alarcón said.

In the earlier espionage case, a federal appeals court in Atlanta is expected to rehear arguments on whether the five men got an unfair trial in Miami because of intense publicity.

The men all acknowledge being Cuban agents but have said they were spying on "terrorist" exile groups opposed to President Fidel Castro and not on the U.S. government.

"They are trying to create an environment of McCarthyism to influence the Atlanta appeals court," Alarcón said of the newest arrests, referring to the sensationalist anti-communist campaign conducted by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

The five agents were convicted in Miami in June 2001, but a three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the convictions and sentences in August and ordered a retrial, citing pretrial publicity and community prejudice in Miami.

The full Atlanta appeals court agreed in November to rehear arguments, voiding the three-judge panel's earlier decision.

Of the arrest of the married couple, Alarcón said, ``It appears the most grievous thing they did was come to Cuba and have academic exchanges."

The husband and wife both hold positions at Florida International University and could get up to 10 years in prison if convicted of failing to register as agents of a foreign power.

A U.S. attorney said Alvarez had spied for Cuba since 1977 and his wife since 1982.

Federal investigators allege they engaged in spying while working quietly at the university -- Alvarez as a psychology professor and his wife as coordinator of a social work program.

Alarcón said the latest case underlines growing censorship in South Florida, home to many Cuban immigrants opposed to the Cuban revolution.

FBI arrests college professor and wife as spies

MIAMI 09 Jan - A husband and wife who worked at a Florida university were accused on Monday of being covert agents for Cuba and feeding information on U.S. government officials and anti-Castro exile groups to Havana for nearly 30 years, according to an indictment.

Carlos Alvarez, a psychology professor at Florida International University, and his wife Elsa Alvarez, a social worker at the school, were ordered held without bond on charges of acting as foreign agents for Cuba without notifying the U.S. government.

"If these two individuals were freed I believe they would go to Cuba," U.S. Magistrate Andrea Simonton said as she refused pleas from their lawyers to grant bail to the graying, bespectacled 61-year-old professor and his wife, who is 55.

U.S. authorities said the couple, both naturalized U.S. citizens from Cuba, admitted in voluntary interviews with FBI agents in June that they funneled information to Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence for decades -- Carlos Alvarez since 1977 and his wife since 1982.

Under questioning in court from defense lawyers, an FBI agent said he was not aware that the two had relayed any top classified secrets or information on military installations or equipment to Havana.

The two were indicted on December 22 and arrested on Friday. The indicted was unsealed on Monday.

Miami is the heart of the exiled opposition to Cuban President Fidel Castro and his communist government. Thousands fled the Caribbean island after Castro's 1959 revolution and settled in the Florida city.

The indictment marked the latest prosecution of alleged Cuban spies who have infiltrated the exile community.

In 2001, the "Cuban five" were convicted of infiltrating military bases and exile groups. In August a U.S. appeals court panel overturned the convictions, saying pervasive prejudice against Castro in Miami had prevented them from getting a fair trial.

The court later reinstated the convictions but agreed to review whether they had a fair trial.

U.S. authorities said Carlos and Elsa Alvarez, operating under the code names David and Deborah, used their positions of trust as respected educators to recruit potential spies for Cuba as well as informing on Miami-based exile groups, including the prominent Brothers to the Rescue.

The two used short-wave radio, computer encryption and secret compartments in briefcases to communicate with Havana and made legal trips to Cuba as educators, where they contacted Cuban control agents, prosecutors said.

The husband also performed psychological screening of police cadets and police officers in Miami, they said.

Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta declined to answer a question as to whether authorities believe Alvarez recruited spies who are working as Florida police officers.

"It is clearly of concern to us that a covert agent of Cuba would do psychological screenings for police officers in the city of Miami," he said.

Defense lawyers argued vigorously but to no avail to have their clients released on bond, citing deep ties in the community.

"The practical matter is that these are people who have admitted they were spying," Simonton, the judge, said.

The two did not enter pleas and Simonton scheduled another hearing for January 19

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