South Florida Sun-Sentinel
January 14, 2005

Trial ends in Cuba for 23 in ramming of embassy

By Andrea Rodriguez
The Associated Press

HAVANA · The trial for 23 men accused of stealing a bus and crashing it through the gates of the Mexican Embassy almost three years ago ended Thursday, with a government prosecutor increasing to 20 years the sentence he is seeking for two of the men.

A ruling in the case is expected in about a month. The trial, which lasted two days, was closed to international media.

The prosecutor raised the recommended sentences for Pedro Plasencia Achon and Ramon Mendez Sosa, the alleged ringleaders of the February 2002 incident that was blamed on Miami broadcasts and sparked a diplomatic crisis. They were both originally facing 12-year sentences.

"The prosecutor asked for 20 years for the two of them ... I've never seen lawyers fight so much," Ariel Rodriguez, whose brother Michel Rodriguez is among the 23 defendants, said after leaving the Popular Municipal Tribunal in Havana, where two relatives per defendant were allowed in.

In addition to the two men's recommended sentences, the prosecutor is seeking 12-year sentences for 10 of the defendants, 10 years for six others and five years for the remaining five.

The men allegedly crashed a stolen bus through the embassy gates amid a wave of rumors the mission was issuing visas to all Cubans who showed up. Members of the group demanded visas and refused to leave before they were arrested within two days by specially trained Cuban police in a lightning fast pre-dawn eviction.

A document from the prosecutor's office obtained by The Associated Press says Plasencia Achon sparked the episode, as the first to try, unsuccessfully, to break through barriers set up around the embassy by police.

Plasencia Achon then allegedly led an attempt to hijack a construction company truck, but the driver resisted.

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