February 9, 2001

Cuba frees elderly exile 'invader' back to U.S.

                  HAVANA (Reuters) -- Havana released an elderly anti-communist Cuban
                  American jailed since 1998 for staging a bizarre armed landing on the western
                  part of the island, a human rights group said Friday. He immediately returned to

                  Ernestino Abreu Horta, 76, left jail this week and flew back to the United States
                  with his family Thursday, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
                  Reconciliation said.

                  "As I understand it, the government decided to give him a pardon for health
                  reasons," said commission President Elizardo Sanchez. "There was a real risk he
                  could die in jail."

                  Abreu and another Cuban exile, Vicente Marcelino Rodriguez Martinez, 66, were
                  sentenced to 15 years in prison last year on a charge of planning "rebellion."

                  Their conviction was in a court in the western province of Pinar del Rio, where
                  the two avowed opponents of President Fidel Castro came ashore in a motorboat
                  with a stash of medicine and arms on a mysterious "invasion" mission.

                  Apparently hoping to spark an anti-Castro revolt, the pair fled into the hills of
                  Pinar del Rio, but were tracked and captured by Cuban troops after a manhunt
                  lasting several days.

                  Abreu's elderly sister in Havana, Julia Abreu, could not immediately confirm the
                  release, but said she had been out of contact with her brother for several months
                  because her own health problems prevented her from visiting him.

                  "They haven't said anything to me, but if it was true, I would be very happy,"
                  she said in a telephone interview.

                  Sanchez said, however, his group had confirmed Abreu's release with U.S.
                  relatives who came to pick him up. And the Miami Herald's Friday edition also
                  reported Abreu's arrival in the United States with his daughter, Alicia Abreu.

                  "Reached late Thursday night, Alicia Abreu confirmed that her father had been
                  freed and was staying with her at her home near Kendall," the Miami Herald

                  In Washington, the U.S. State Department said: "We are very happy to know that
                  Mr. Abreu is finally home with his family."

                  Ailments in prison

                  Abreu's health problems in prison had included circulation, digestive and
                  prostrate ailments, family sources said.

                  Cuban authorities and state media, which reported neither his capture nor
                  conviction, did not mention Abreu's release.

                  Abreu is a past leader of the Miami-based Patriotic Cuban Junta. Martinez fought
                  in Castro's rebel army that brought about the 1959 Cuban Revolution, but later
                  turned against him and served jail time before going into exile.

                  It was not clear how the pair, both suffering from ailments of old age during
                  their imprisonment, thought they would have a realistic chance against Cuba's
                  military. Some at the time interpreted their actions as a quixotic, personal quest
                  to prove they could put militant words into action.

                  "It was a mix of romanticism, age and a desire to practice what they preach that
                  brought this adventure," Sanchez said.

                  Three other Pinar del Rio residents, all related to the exiles, also received jail
                  sentences after being convicted of assisting the pair in the days after their

                  Cuba has been the target of several incursion attempts by exiles since its
                  revolution, some more serious than others like the failed CIA-backed invasion at
                  the Bay of Pigs in 1961.

                  At the time of last year's conviction of the two exiles, the United States said it
                  would be "outrageous" to hold the older man, Abreu, so long, because of his age.

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