The Washington Post
Friday , October 6, 2000 ; Page A22

U.S. Tells Mexico To Protect Ex-Spy

By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service

MEXICO CITY, Oct. 5 The United States declared today that the Mexican government has a "special responsibility" to ensure the safety of a high-ranking
Cuban intelligence officer who was deported to Havana after seeking political asylum in Mexico.

The Cuban, Pedro Riera Escalante, was put on a plane to the Cuban capital Wednesday by Mexican immigration authorities despite protests by human rights groups
here that he faces grave danger at the hands of the Cuban government. Although the U.S. Embassy declined to explain its strong interest in the case, Rafael Alvarez,
a human rights activist who was assisting Riera, said the Cuban had met with U.S. officials at the embassy before his deportation.

"We are very concerned about the human rights implications raised by this action and we have asked for a full explanation," said an embassy statement. "Given the
involvement of the Mexican government in this matter, we believe they have a special responsibility to ensure the safety of this individual in Cuba."

Riera told human rights officials that he has been spying on the CIA for more than 20 years as a member of the Cuban intelligence services. As a result, the activists
said, Riera is presumed to have extensive information about Cuban spying operations in the United States and Mexico. Critics of Mexico's decision speculated that
Riera knows the names of Mexican officials who have collaborated with the CIA or with Cuban intelligence--potentially explosive information.

Alvarez, who assisted Riera in Mexico, said Riera told him he knew of Mexican government officials and Mexicans outside the government who have worked as
CIA informants. "Maybe someone high up thought it was better for this guy to be in a jail in Cuba," said a Mexican familiar with the case.

Mexican officials insist that Riera, who was listed as a diplomat at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City as recently as the early 1990s, was deported because he had
sneaked into Mexico a month ago without proper documentation. But few Mexicans seemed to believe that. There was widespread suspicion that Riera was
deported for diplomatic reasons involving the complicated relationship between Mexico and Cuba, which have had generally close ties since Fidel Castro's revolution
in 1959.

Aside from the possible desire not to anger Havana, human rights activists and U.S. officials said they cannot understand why Mexico released a man who is believed
to have extensive information about U.S., Cuban and Mexican intelligence operations. In addition to concerns about human rights, many of them said Mexico has
tossed away a strategic opportunity to question Riera about Cuban and CIA intelligence operations in Mexico.

"He clearly has sensitive information and he told me he was disaffected with the Cuban revolution and he didn't want to work for the government anymore," said
Sergio Aguayo, a human rights activist who interviewed Riera several weeks ago.

"I am not defending someone who spied on my country. I am speaking in favor of principles," Aguayo said.

The U.S. role in Riera's case remains unclear. Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow refused to discuss it despite the embassy's complaint.

"We do not discuss political asylum cases," said the embassy statement. "Whether he had met with U.S. officials or not, it doesn't change the fact that Mexico had a
responsibility to him, as an asylum-seeker in Mexico, to treat him in accord with international norms."

Davidow called Juan Rebolledo, deputy foreign minister for the United States and Europe, and urged him to monitor Riera's safety in Cuba. The Mexican Foreign
Ministry, which initially received Riera's asylum request, had no official comment.

Edelmiro Castellanos, an exiled Cuban journalist for U.S.-funded Radio Marti who had been helping Riera in Mexico, said Riera helped former CIA agent Philip
Agee write his controversial book on the agency, "Inside the Company."

                                                   © 2000 The Washington Post