CNN (Reuters)

June 8, 1998

Cuban exiles reported arrested after incursion


HAVANA, June 8 (Reuters) - Cuba's communist government stayed silent on Monday about reports that a handful of Cuban exiles had landed secretly on the island and were under arrest, but unofficial accounts gave them some credence.

Government officials would neither confirm nor deny that up to five members of the Movement of Revolutionary Recovery (MRR), a Miami-based group opposed to President Fidel Castro, had entered the country and were being questioned.

The group landed on the northern coast of Cuba's western Pinar del Rio province with the apparent aim of fomenting activities against the government, according to reports in the Miami Herald and by independent Cuban journalists.

The reports said the infiltrators were tracked down after days on the run and were captured by troops who brought them to the capital last week for questioning.

"There is no doubt that they arrived, and that they are here, but what they were doing and what they were planning is not known for sure," Juan Antonio Sanchez, an independent journalist and native of Pinar del Rio, told Reuters.

He said the men arrived in a motor-boat near Santa Lucia Bay between May 18 and May 20, before heading inland to the locality of Minas de Matahambre and into the mountains.

They stopped for food at peasants' houses but a villager tipped off soldiers, who arrested them and took them to the Villa Marista detention centre in Havana, he said.

Sanchez said his version was based on first-hand reports from his contacts in the area.

Sanchez works for Cuba Press, the main non-government journalists' organization in Cuba, which distributes information informally overseas by telephone, newsletters and the Internet. Other independent journalists supported his account.

A U.S. government source told Reuters that Miami-based family members of one of the men said to be in the MRR group had reported his arrest to the State Department.

U.S. officials here could not independently confirm that but were "making every effort to get access," the source said, adding that they were prohibited under local law from visiting Cuban-born U.S. citizens in detention.

Beyond that, the source could not verify any details of the reported incursion and arrest of the exiles.

The Miami Herald and independent journalists in Cuba have reported that the MRR band of three to five men was led by 73-year-old Ernestino Abreu, and also included Vicente Martinez, a former officer of Castro's Rebel Army in 1959.

The Herald quoted one MRR source as saying the infiltrators planned to "recruit partisans and create the conditions for a guerrilla war in the region."

But there was also speculation that they may have come, as others have in the past from Miami, to help a relative escape from Cuba.

"Some say they came with arms, but that could not be confirmed, and they are quite old," Sanchez said. "Maybe it was just nostalgia, because these men were in that same zone of Pinar del Rio during the conflict against (ex-dictator Fulgencio) Batista in 1957 and 1958."

Cuban officials have declined to comment on the reports, and state-run media have not mentioned them.

Pressed on the issue last week, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alejandro Gonzalez, who deals with foreign media, said he had "absolutely no information" to offer.

Cuba has been the target of several incursion attempts by exiles since its 1959 revolution, notably the U.S.-sponsored invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 which Castro's military quickly defeated.

But false rumours of such landings have been common both on the island and among the exile community in Miami.