November 13, 2002

Cuba News / The Miami Herald

Posted on Wed, Nov. 13, 2002 The Miami Herald.

Five Cuban spies seek new trial

By Gail Epstein Nieves.

Claiming to have new evidence showing that a fair jury was impossible to get in Miami, appellate lawyers for five convicted Cuban spies asked for a new trial Tuesday.

The five men were convicted last year on espionage charges. One of them also was convicted of murder conspiracy in the 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot-down that killed four Miami men.

Lawyer Leonard Weinglass said the spies should be granted a new trial because the U.S. government has taken ''contradictory'' positions about community biases regarding Cuba and Cuban Americans.

The U.S. attorney's office argued that an impartial jury could be chosen. One year later, the same office tried to get a change of venue when the government was sued for discrimination by a Miami-based Hispanic immigration agent.

Weinglass said the government's differing positions constitute ''newly discovered evidence'' of a sort.

Jacqueline Becerra, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, said prosecutors ''are comfortable'' with the convictions and would respond to the motion in the near future.

8 Cubans still in INS custody

By Luisa Yanez and Tere Figueras.

Eight migrants who took a Cuban government cargo plane from Cuba to Key West remained in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service on Tuesday, more than a day after their flight from the island.

Immigration officials would not comment on the status of the migrants -- four men, three women and a toddler girl -- who underwent about seven hours of questioning upon landing at Key West International Airport followed by an overnight stay at the Krome detention center in West Miami-Dade.

In the past, the processing of Cuban migrants who arrive on planes taken from the Cuban government is relatively short, typically no more than a few hours.

''The circumstances are very different in this case,'' said INS spokeswoman Maria Elena Garcia, who did not elaborate.

"We are just trying to ascertain what happened.''

As relatives waited for news of the eight, the Cuban government Tuesday characterized the flight as a ''skyjacking'' of the Russian-made Antonov-2.

The Foreign Ministry in Havana issued a formal statement demanding "the immediate return to Cuba of the perpetrators of this act of vandalism, the rest of the illegal immigrants involved in this deed and the skyjacked aircraft, which is the property of the Republic of Cuba.''

It also asked for "the prompt delivery of all information the American authorities may have about this incident.''

The U.S. attorney's office in Miami declined to comment, though on Monday a spokeswoman for the Miami office of the FBI said the migrants did not hijack the plane.

Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are quickly paroled, often released to family members within a few hours following processing at Krome. After a year, they can apply for permanent residency.

With immigration officials refusing to confirm the identities of the eight migrants, those claiming to be relatives of the group left Krome disappointed as Tuesday drew to a close.

Waiting at the gates of the detention center: Haydee Pimentel, who said she glimpsed her nephew among those escorted from the yellow Antonov on television.

Her nephew, Aldo Gutiérrez Hernández, fled with this wife from the Pinar del Río province in western Cuba, Pimentel said.

Pimentel was visiting Miami from Atlanta when she heard the news that a group of Cubans had arrived by plane, escorted by two U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jets from Homestead Air Reserve Base.

''I had no idea he was coming,'' said Pimentel, who said the timing of her visit was especially fortuitous: she is, she says, Gutiérrez's closest relative in the United States.

She said her nephew's wife, Marifleidys, is also among those detained at Krome.

The pilot was identified as 48-year-old Nemencio Carlos Alonso Guerra, an employee of Cuba's national airline, Cubana de Aviación, according to The Associated Press.

The news fueled hope for Nidia Acosta of Hialeah, whose brother, Miguel Acosta, also works for the airline in the same province of Pinar del Río.

She, too, waited at Krome in hopes that her brother had a hand in the escape -- or at least had wrangled a spot in the small workhorse plane.

''He's a pilot, he lives in Pinar del Río, and he works for Cubana de Aviación,'' she said. "How many of those could there be?''

Herald staff writers Jennifer Babson and Renato Pérez contributed to this report.

Cuban soccer defectors starting anew at St. Thomas

By Stephen F. Holder.

St. Thomas University soccer coach Fernando Valenzuela was at home watching a Spanish-language newscast when he heard an item that sparked his interest: Two Cuban national-team soccer players had defected while playing in the Gold Cup tournament in the United States -- a very public display of defiance of Fidel Castro's regime.

'I'm sitting there, and I heard about it on Univision, and I said, 'Wow,' '' said Valenzuela. Imagine his shock three weeks later when, 'Sure enough, I get a call telling me they wanted to come to my school [in northwest Miami-Dade County] and play soccer. I said, 'Sweet!' ''

That's when the collegiate careers of cousins Rey Martinez, 21, and Alberto Delgado, 23, began -- not to mention the rest of their lives. Even if it was not easy.

They left parents, friends, loved ones. And most notably, they abandoned the relatively good life and prestige that came with playing for the national team.

''In Cuba, when you're on the national team, you're on top of the world,'' Martinez said. "Over here, we had to start all over.''

Why did they leave? Because in Cuba, decisions were made for them, not by them. Because they were told when and how to do things. Because free speech and divergent views were out of the question. So, while in Los Angeles in February playing with Cuba's most elite soccer team, they agreed that risking capture by the 10-man government security detail at their hotel would be worth the payoff of freedom.

''If we had gotten caught, we would have been kicked off the national team and would go to prison,'' Delgado said. "They would punish your family, too. You wouldn't even be treated like a person in Cuba after that.''

But a promise each of the young men made to their mothers -- to get an education and become something in life -- was far more feasible on this side of the Florida Straits. So, the morning after battling eventual World Cup semifinalist Korea to a 0-0 tie, the pair sneaked away from their teammates halfway through breakfast. They took with them just a few dollars and the clothes they were wearing.

They were separated in the process, but that didn't prevent them from reaching their destination -- the home of a teammate's relative who lived in Southern California. Delgado said he literally ran for more than 30 minutes before finding a Spanish-speaking gas station attendant who called him a cab. Martinez made his way there shortly after that.

It is then the cousins made contact with Tony Sanchez, an uncle who lives in Miami. Sanchez, who attended St. Thomas, would travel to Los Angeles to meet his nephews, and bring them to South Florida -- and to the Bobcats.

Gaining clearance from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics -- a small-college sports governing body much like the NCAA -- proved as challenging for the two as taking college courses in a language they barely know. To play collegiately, it had to be determined both were truly amateurs. And while they were not paid for their service in Cuba, the authorities there were not exactly eager to supply documentation supporting their amateur status.

''It's not like sending mail to Georgia,'' Valenzuela joked. "Cuba feels very embarrassed over this.''

Martinez, a computer science major, has been cleared and has played five games, scoring four goals with four assists. He'll lead the No. 2 seeded Bobcats (12-6-2) into the Region XIV tournament this week.

They'll open against Embry-Riddle on Friday night at Daytona Beach, needing two wins to advance to the national tournament for the first time. The team is unbeaten in its past 10 games, with just one tie during that stretch.

Delgado, a sports administration major, is still awaiting a few documents, but the school is hopeful he'll gain clearance -- possibly even today -- in time to play in the postseason.

Whatever happens, both should enjoy a full season next year when they will be sophomores at St. Thomas. And when they both finally get in uniform alongside one another, Valenzuela knows what to expect.

''We have some very good players on this team,'' Valenzuela said. "And with [Delgado and Martinez], I would think we would be able to take on any Division II, Division I team out there.''


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