U.S. hopes Cuba relations survive `spy' expulsion
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Herald Staff Writer
U.S. officials said Wednesday they hope the expulsion of three Cuban diplomats
at the United Nations linked to a Miami spy ring will not affect U.S. relations with
Havana but they girded for retaliatory expulsions by Cuba.
The three Cubans in New York have until 5 p.m. Monday to leave the country,
according to a State Department statement. It also noted that two other Cuban
diplomats accused of being spies had previously returned to Havana.
The top Cuban expelled was Eduardo Martinez Borbonet, the mission's first
secretary, who acted as liaison with the U.N. Development Program and
The other two were Third Secretary Roberto Azanza Perez and Attache Gonzalo
Fernandez Garay, described by U.N. diplomats as ``electronic repair types. All
have diplomatic immunity and cannot be arrested.
The five Cuban diplomats were ``definitely linked to the group in Miami,
State Department official said, referring to the 10 Cubans arrested in Miami in
September on charges of spying for Havana.
U.S. diplomats in New York said they knew of no violations of the travel
restrictions imposed on all Cuban diplomats there -- no trips more than 25 miles
from central Manhattan without notifying U.S. officials -- indicating that at least
some of the Miami suspects traveled to New York.
The State Department announcement said only that the expulsions had been
decided on ``as a result of evidence developed during an exhaustive investigation
by the FBI.
White House spokesman P.J. Crowley said later that the three had engaged
activities incompatible with their diplomatic status, a euphemism for espionage.
U.S. officials said the Cuban mission in New York was informed of the expulsions
Monday afternoon and was given 24 hours to respond. The Cubans did not reply,
and were given the Monday deadline at a second meeting Wednesday.
One of the five Cubans linked to the spy network had returned to Havana
five weeks ago at the end of his regular tour of duty and another went back about
the same time on what began as a routine trip, a knowledgeable U.S. official said.
Washington, meanwhile, braced for Cuban retaliatory expulsions of U.S.
diplomats in Havana.
``Expect would be too strong a word, but [President Fidel] Castro is capable
surprises, said one State Department specialist on Cuba.
``This is a New York thing and not a Washington thing, said another, arguing
the espionage dispute should not affect the diplomatic missions that Cuba and the
United States maintain in each other's capitals.
``Retaliating against our people in Havana is not an option. If that happened
could be forced to reply, against the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, a
State Department official said.
U.S. officials met Tuesday in Washington with the head of the Cuban Interests
Section in Washington, Fernando Remirez, to give him details of the expulsions,
according to State Department sources.
Evidence of crackdown
Cuban exiles welcomed the expulsions as a sign that Washington is continuing
crackdown on Havana spies that began with the arrest of 10 Miami-area Cubans
accused of snooping on U.S. military facilities and exiles in Florida.
``We are encouraged that we are beginning to see the results of these
investigations, and we hope they provide more results soon, said Jose Basulto,
head of Brothers to the Rescue.
Florida Republican Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart said he would ask the FBI for
briefing on the expulsions when he returns to Washington after the year-end
``Until then, everything is speculation, he said.
U.S. officials have expelled at least nine Cubans from the U.N. mission
1983, the last three after they scuffled in 1995 with Cuban exile protesters and
New York police outside the Cuban Mission in Manhattan.
Large presence in NYC
Cuba maintains a large mission at the United Nations, with 40 accredited
diplomats and an estimated 20 to 30 support personnel, compared to Australia's
12-member mission and Argentina's 20.
Havana has long used its U.N. mission as its leading intelligence-gathering
the United States because it was its only foothold on U.S. territory until it opened
the Interests Sections in Washington in 1977, U.S. sources say.
All but one of the ``diplomats assigned to the Interests Section that year
intelligence officers, said one expert, but they drew such intense U.S. scrutiny that
Havana eventually decided to keep its spy base in New York.
``You don't need intelligence people to gather information or lobby the
one retired CIA official.
Expulsion meant to be quiet
State Department officials said that to avoid a public scandal, the latest
expulsions were supposed to have been kept secret until after the three diplomats
had left the country next week.
``Our preference was to keep it quiet, to keep it low key and avoid a publicity
explosion, but someone somewhere began leaking yesterday, one official said.
Veterans of Cuba-U.S. spy games said U.S. officials usually go out of their
publicize the expulsion of Cuban spies because, as one put it, ``their activities are a
little more onerous.
While the United States often keeps quiet the expulsion of diplomats from
antagonistic countries, said Skip Brandon, retired FBI deputy assistant director on
terrorism, ``usually we slam-dunk the Cubans.
Herald special correspondent Stewart Stogel contributed to this report.