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
with his family Thursday, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National
"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,
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
brought this adventure," Sanchez said.
Three other Pinar del Rio residents, all related to the exiles, also received
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
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
would be "outrageous" to hold the older man, Abreu, so long, because of his age.
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