Cuban agent eyeing asylum is sent home
Seized in Mexico, he is expelled, put on airplane to his homeland
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
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
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,
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
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
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.''
HELP FOR ASYLUM
Castellanos said he had introduced Riera Escalante to several
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,
They were told to go to the Interior Ministry, since Riera Escalante
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,
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
RANK OF MAJOR
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,''
``Still, he decided to try to do things quietly, through personal contacts.''