Anti-Castro emigre jailed

Campaign News | Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Property developer friend of Posada gets four years

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A Cuban-American activist was sentenced Tuesday to nearly four years in prison for hiding military-style weapons in what prosecutors said was to be an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government.

U.S. District Judge James Cohn imposed a 46-month term on wealthy developer Santiago Alvarez, a key benefactor of jailed Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles, for conspiring to possess arms including machine guns and a grenade launcher.

Osvaldo Mitat, an Alvarez employee, was sentenced to 37 months on the same count. Both will get credit for the year they have served.

Alvarez, 65, and Mitat, 64, pleaded guilty in September in a plea deal that included dismissal of five other criminal charges. They were arrested a year ago after an informant tipped off the FBI that a large marine cooler full of weapons was being moved from apartments in Broward County owned by Alvarez to Mitat in Miami.

A search at an apartment complex revealed more weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Another arms cache was found in the Bahamas, including C-4 plastic explosives, that prosecutors said was linked to Alvarez.

Defense lawyers said attempts by exiles to bring freedom to Cuba were comparable to risks taken by heroes of the American Revolution and communist resistance figures such as Poland's Lech Walesa.

"That's why they did what they did. They are great patriots," attorney Robert Josefsberg said.

Cohn said that he recognized the men's goal was "a free and democratic Cuba" but that the serious nature of the crime demanded punishment.

"Nobody questions the underlying motives here," Cohn said. "However, as we all know, we are a nation of laws. Sanctions must be imposed."

Alvarez is a longtime associate of Posada, a former CIA operative accused by Cuba and Venezuela of masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. A judge has ruled that Posada, now in immigration custody in Texas, must be deported to a country other than those two, but the U.S. cannot find one willing to take him.

U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta of Miami, who is also Cuban-American, declined to comment.

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