The Miami Herald
October 5, 2000

 Cuban agent eyeing asylum is sent home

 Seized in Mexico, he is expelled, put on airplane to his homeland


 A longtime Cuban intelligence agent who was seeking political asylum in Mexico
 was put on a plane back to Cuba on Wednesday, hours after being seized on the
 street as he was coming out of a meeting with a Mexican official, human rights
 groups and government sources said.

 Pedro Riera Escalante, a former Cuban consul in Mexico who according to
 Mexican officials was a senior officer in Cuba's intelligence service, had been
 discussing his asylum
 with senior Mexican foreign affairs and Interior Ministry officials over the past four
 weeks, officials said.

 ``This was most likely a trap by the Mexican government,'' said Rafael Alvarez of
 the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, who had been contacted by
 the Cuban asylum-seeker in early September. ``His life is now endangered by this
 totally illegal extradition procedure.''

 Mexico's Interior Ministry issued a communique late Wednesday, saying that
 Riera Escalante was ``a Cuban who could not prove the legality of his stay in
 Mexico'' and was ``forced to abandon the national territory.'' It added that
 migration agents seized him at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday in Mexico City.


 A senior Mexican official told The Herald late Wednesday that ``we were very
 suspicious about his behavior. As an intelligence officer, he knew perfectly well
 that he had to formally ask for asylum at the migration office, and he never did it.''

 ``We suspect he may have been sent by Castro to create a political scandal if we
 granted him asylum,'' the senior official said, adding that Riera Escalante was
 planning to hold a press conference with human rights groups today.


 According to Edelmiro Castellanos, a Mexico-based Cuban exile journalist with
 Radio Martí, the two were coming out of a Sanborn's restaurant in downtown
 Mexico City, where they had just met with José Luis Valles, an official of the
 Interior Ministry's CISEN intelligence service.

 At the meeting, Riera Escalante was told that his petition was going well,
 Castellanos said. When they left, six armed men in civilian clothes seized them
 on the street, shouting that they were immigration police, and pushed Riera
 Escalante into a white van, Castellanos said.

 ``It was a matter of seconds,'' Castellanos said. ``They didn't wear uniforms and
 didn't present any IDs. They just knocked us down all of a sudden.''


 Castellanos said he had introduced Riera Escalante to several Mexican officials
 to help him get political asylum. In early September, the two went to the Foreign
 Ministry, where they met with Undersecretary Carlos de Icaza and another official,
 Daniel Tamayo.

 They were told to go to the Interior Ministry, since Riera Escalante could not
 request asylum at the Foreign Ministry if he was already in Mexico, Castellanos
 said. But the Foreign Ministry officials said the matter would be resolved
 favorably, he said.

 Days later, Riera Escalante and Castellanos went to the Interior Ministry and met
 with several officials, including Valles.


 ``Riera was fully confident that he would be safe if he put himself in the hands of
 the Mexican government,'' Castellanos said. ``I told him to file an official petition,
 but he said it would be best to first try the `diplomatic' way, through personal

 Riera Escalante was Cuba's consul in Mexico between 1988 and 1994, and had
 been an officer in Cuba's intelligence services for several decades, according to
 Castellanos and Mexican officials. He is listed in the CIA's 1989 ``Directory of
 Officials of the Republic of Cuba'' as a second secretary at the Cuban Embassy
 that year.


 On Sept. 5, he told officials of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez human rights group
 that he had been an intelligence major with Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence,
 specializing in ``CIA activities against Mexico,'' said Alvarez, an officer with the
 Catholic Church-related Mexican human rights group.

 ``He told me he knew of many Mexican government officials who had worked for
 the CIA, and that he feared reprisals from the Mexican and Cuban governments,''
 Alvarez said.

 ``Still, he decided to try to do things quietly, through personal contacts.''