Detainee on hunger strike
A Cuban exile suspected, but never charged, by the United States of being a spy fights a deportation order and continues a hunger strike at Krome detention center, demanding his freedom.
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
Juan Emilio Aboy, a Cuban exile detained for almost three years on suspicion of being a Cuban spy operating in South Florida, has been on a hunger strike for the past month -- demanding release from the Krome detention center in West Miami-Dade County.
In a telephone interview last week, Aboy -- who weighed 225 pounds -- said he has lost 35 pounds and become ''weak.'' He said he only drinks water and refuses food.
Aboy said he will not eat again until he is released -- so he can pursue appeals in freedom.
Nina Pruneda, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman in Miami, confirmed that Aboy is on a hunger strike but did not provide details on his condition.
But Aboy said he heard officials were trying to obtain a federal court order to insert a feeding device into his body.
''This is to the end,'' said Aboy, 44, who is fighting a deportation order that cannot be executed because Cuba generally refuses to take back exiles.
Aboy, who said he defected in 1994 during the rafter exodus, has been linked by federal investigators to the so-called Wasp Network of more than a dozen Cuban government operatives rolled up in the late 1990s.
Investigators claimed Aboy served as network courier and was at one time ordered to infiltrate the Miami-Dade-based U.S. Southern Command.
LACK OF EVIDENCE
Aboy has denied the allegations, and federal investigators have not produced specific evidence to back up their claims other than to indicate the information came from Wasp Network members who became government informants.
Aboy was arrested in May 2002. Since evidence that he was a spy was not strong enough for a criminal case, he was never charged. Instead, federal officials took the case to immigration court and put Aboy in deportation proceedings.
The case raises questions about how long an undeportable foreign national can be detained by immigration officials.
Regulations say foreigners with final deportation orders can be detained pending removal arrangements, but that if ''there is no significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future'' -- barring ''special circumstances'' -- he must be released under supervision. Special circumstances refer to national security concerns, terrorism or extreme danger to the community.
Regulations stem from a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited detention of undeportable foreign nationals beyond six months. Permanent detention, the high court said, raises ``serious constitutional questions.''
A Department of Homeland Security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the agency's position on Aboy's continued detention ''will be made in the courtroom in the coming days.'' The official would not elaborate.
Aboy began his hunger strike after the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta rejected his appeal of the deportation order in February.
Pruneda did not comment on Aboy's assertion about possible force-feeding, but said: ``Should his health reach a critical state, the U.S. Public Health Service has protocols in place to take the necessary steps in the interests of his health.''
''The Department of Homeland Security is coordinating closely with the U.S. Public Health Service, which is regularly monitoring Mr. Aboy's health,'' Pruneda said. ``I remind you that it is Mr. Aboy's choice not to eat.''
Allegations in immigration court were that Aboy failed to register with the U.S. attorney general as someone trained in espionage, engaged in ''activity relating to espionage, sabotage, or prohibited exports,'' and that he committed fraud in his residence application when he failed to reveal former links to the Cuban Communist Party and an intent to spy.
Aboy has denied the allegations, both in the telephone interview last week and in a lengthy face-to-face interview at Krome about a month after his arrest.
Aboy said his attorney presented evidence in immigration court that he never concealed his security training with the Cuban armed forces before arriving in the United States.
Aboy, a Soviet-trained military diver, said he disclosed his military background to U.S. officials when he was interviewed in Guantánamo, where he was taken after U.S. authorities in 1994 began moving rafters stopped at sea to the U.S. naval base in Cuba.
Aboy's wife, Alina, faxed a copy of the biographical questionnaire she said her husband filled out at Guantánamo to The Herald.
In the line where he is asked to describe his occupation, he wrote ''military officer.'' Below, where he is asked to describe his specialty, he wrote ''marinero diver,'' followed by ''Soviet Union'' after the line asking if he had done foreign duty.
Immigration officials have not disputed that Aboy disclosed the information at Guantánamo. But they maintain that he violated the law by failing to formally register with the attorney general as a foreign national trained in espionage. Aboy has said no one told him he had to register.