The Washington Post
Thursday , October 5, 2000 ; Page A22

Mexico Returns Diplomat To Cuba

By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service

MEXICO CITY, Oct. 4 Mexico today returned to Cuba an asylum-seeking diplomat who claimed that his true job for more than 20 years was to spy on the
Central Intelligence Agency.

The deportation of Pedro Riera Escalante, who was Cuba's second-ranking diplomat in Mexico from 1988 to 1994 and apparently sneaked back into the country
from Cuba a month ago, was fiercely denounced by human rights activists.

"We are worried for his life," said Rafael Alvarez, a rights activist who had been helping Riera in his request for asylum. "He knew the rules of the game, and that they
will probably kill him."

Edelmiro Castellanos, a Mexico-based journalist for U.S.-funded Radio Marti, which opposes the Cuban government, said Riera, 55, was one of the highest-ranking
Cuban intelligence officers ever to defect. Castellanos said he was helping Riera to defect and was present when he was detained by Mexican agents.

Mexico has traditionally had warm relations with Cuba, often siding with Havana or remaining silent on Cuba's human rights record, much to the consternation of
Washington. It was unclear whether Riera's deportation was a policy decision to avoid angering Havana, or was done for another reason.

Riera was arrested by six armed immigration officers Tuesday afternoon as he emerged from a meeting in a coffee shop with officials from Mexico's intelligence
service, Castellanos said. Castellanos said the intelligence officers had told Riera that his asylum request was soon to be approved; then he was arrested, which
apparently came as a surprise to the intelligence officials with whom he had just met.

The confusion over Riera's deportation was heightened by the fact that the Mexican intelligence agency and immigration agency are both branches of the Interior

The ministry issued a statement today saying that Riera was deported because he entered the country without proper documents. Alejandro Carrillo Castro, head of
Mexico's immigration agency, denied that Riera was deported for political reasons. He said it was "exclusively an immigration issue."

Human rights officials said that was simply an excuse. Alvarez said the government seemed to be using the documentation issue as cover to dispose of a touchy
diplomatic matter. Alvarez said Riera told him he was aware of Mexican officials who had been working with the CIA. Castellanos said Riera had also overseen
Cuban spying on the CIA in countries such as Spain, Chile, Mozambique and Angola.

Alvarez said that Riera had met recently with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City as he sought asylum here. U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow
said embassy officials would make no comment on the Riera matter.

Jesus Jimenez, spokesman for Mexico's immigration agency, when asked whether he was concerned for Riera's safety after he arrives in Cuba, replied, "Not at all."

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