Cuba again links Dade man to plot
BY ELAINE DE VALLE
The Miami developer Cuba says financed a ``terrorist'' mission to the island in April was implicated by the Cuban government last year in an alleged plot to assassinate Fidel Castro in Panama.
Santiago Alvarez, 60, was accused in November by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez-Roque of organizing a plot that landed four Cuban exiles in a Panama jail. On Wednesday, Cuban television blamed Alvarez for the April attack -- and offered a taped telephone conversation with one of three captured Cuban exiles as proof.
While Alvarez has denied any involvement in the alleged assassination attempt during the Ibero-American Summit, he would neither confirm nor deny a role Thursday in the botched April assignment on the island.
``I cannot comment on that right now. If I do say something, it will be on a more opportune moment,'' said Alvarez, a developer of strip shopping centers and apartment buildings. ``When I can analyze everything, I will have something to say.''
He does admit to raising money for a defense fund for the jailed men in Panama he considers his friends.
Three are from Miami-Dade County. The fourth, alleged ringleader Luis Posada Carriles, has claimed responsibility for a string of bombings at Havana tourist locations in 1997. He and Alvarez fought together in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Alvarez has bought some of Posada's paintings to help him make a living, he said last year.
Alvarez plans a Radio Mambí marathon today for the four men's defense fund. He said he had raised $150,000 so far.
He would not say Thursday if it was he who spoke to 27-year-old Ihosvani Surís de la Torre on the telephone in the taped conversation May 3.
Surís was one of three Miami-Dade men caught April 26 in Cuba after they tried to land on the island with four AK-47 assault rifles, one M-3 rifle with a silencer and three Makarov pistols. The other two men have been identified as Santiago Padrón Quintero and Máximo Padrera Valdés, also known as Máximo Robaina.
The mission was made public on Cuba's national TV show, Mesa Redonda, on Wednesday. The program aired the alleged telephone call by Surís from the Villa Marista prison to Alvarez, who was identified as a member of the Cuban American National Foundation.
In the call, Surís -- apparently coached by State Security -- says he is well and asks for instructions from Alvarez. He seems to ask if the famous Tropicana nightclub, a popular tourist destination in Havana, should be among the targets for destruction.
``The other day, when you told me about the Tropicana, do you want me to do something there?'' Surís asked.
The man identified as Alvarez responds: ``If you want to do that, so much the better. Makes no difference to me.''
The transcript of the phone conversation was published Thursday in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party's daily, and distributed by Cuba's National Information Agency.
There was no explanation why Cuba waited until Wednesday, almost two months after the arrests, to make the details public. Diplomats at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., did not return calls.
In Wednesday's program, Mesa Redonda hailed five spies convicted this month in Miami as patriots and heroes for trying to stop ``terrorist'' plans by Miami exiles. The April mission was cited as an example.
According to Cuban State Security agent Manuel Heyvia, who reported the arrests on the program, the three Miami-Dade men planned to attack the Tropicana as well as recruit farmers in the Escambray mountain range in central Cuba to form an insurgency.
Heyvia said they disembarked on the northern coast of Villa Clara
province and were intercepted by Cuban border guards. Judging from the
conversation, they landed near the city of Sagua la Grande.
After an exchange of gunfire, the ``infiltrators'' fled to nearby Jutia Key, where they were arrested April 26.
In addition to the weapons, the three men -- linked to the anti-Castro groups Comandos F4 and Alpha 66 -- were carrying night goggles, communication equipment, $3,028 in U.S. currency and 970 Cuban pesos, the Cuban agent said.
Alpha 66 leader Andrés Nazario Sargén recognized that all three men had been members at one point and that two -- Surís and Robaina, 57 -- were active members. But he said they acted independently of the group when they went to Cuba nearly two months ago.
``They did not go with our authorization,'' said Nazario, who nonetheless praises their ``patriotic'' efforts and vows to support them.
Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, said he did not know if Alvarez was a member. ``We have thousands of members,'' Garcia said, adding that Alvarez is not a high-ranking member or director. ``I don't know him.''
He also cast doubt on Cuba's version of events, saying the men
may have gone to Cuba to visit relatives or dissidents and that the taped
conversation has no real
acknowledgement of terrorist activities. Regardless, he said, the foundation had nothing to do with it.
``Fidel Castro blames us on a regular basis for the lack of rain, for too much rain, for crop diseases, for the failed economy -- everything bad that happens in Cuba.''
Herald translator Renato Perez contributed to this report, which was supplemented by wire services.