The Washington Post
Sunday, May 20, 2001; Page A21

Cuban Envoy Says He Was Kidnapped

Deportation by Mexico Was Illegal, He Charges

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service

MEXICO CITY, May 19 -- A Cuban diplomat who was mysteriously deported from Mexico in October as he was seeking political asylum has turned up in a
Havana court claiming that he was kidnapped.

"I was kidnapped by force and taken illegally to Cuba," Pedro Riera Escalante was quoted as saying in court Friday, before the head of a three-judge panel ruled him
out of order.

Riera, who was the Cuban consul in Mexico City from 1986 to 1992, has been charged with falsification of documents, illegal departure and bribery, stemming from
his decision in 1999 to leave Cuba and reenter Mexico. News agencies reported from Havana that he pleaded guilty to leaving Cuba with a false passport and
bribing officials at the Havana airport to help him.

Riera was pleading an asylum case with Mexican intelligence officials even as Mexican immigration officials forcibly hauled him away from a coffee shop and put him
on a plane to Cuba. Exactly why he was deported has never been made clear. Many Mexican commentators speculated that he had embarrassing information about
Mexican officials involved in his spying operations, which were largely directed at the CIA.

The United States and international human rights organizations protested Riera's deportation, saying they feared for his safety once he returned to Cuba.

Edelmiro Castellanos, a Mexico-based journalist for U.S.-funded Radio Marti, which opposes the Cuban government, said at the time that Riera was one of the
highest-ranking Cuban intelligence officers ever to defect. Castellanos said he was helping Riera and was present when he was hauled away by Mexican officials.

Mexican newspapers said at the time of his deportation that Riera was carrying documents that detailed what he said was a two-decade career spying on the CIA.
Riera told others here that he had recruited journalists, businessmen and other Mexicans to help him.

According to wire reports from Havana, there was no mention of any spying activities in the courtroom Friday.

Riera, 49, is one five defendants in the case. The other four -- two Cuban women, an officer of Cuba's Interior Ministry security force and an immigration official --
are accused of helping him leave the island. If convicted, Riera faces up to 12 years in prison.

                                               © 2001