The Miami Herald
May 10, 2000

Cuban envoys spotted in police photo lineup


 WASHINGTON -- At least three Cuban diplomats have been identified in police
 photo lineups as being among the dozen men who attacked a group of protesters
 outside the Cuban Interests Section last month.

 The identifications could lead to the envoys' eventual deportation.

 Washington, D.C., Police opened a misdemeanor simple assault case after the
 April 14 incident in which 11 victims, an eyewitness and Secret Service police
 say several men opened the Cuban Interests Section gates and attacked
 demonstrators standing on the sidewalk. No one was seriously hurt, and no one
 was arrested.

 ``I'm getting beat up, and nobody is doing anything about it,'' said Estrella C.
 Noda, a domestic violence counselor who moved to Washington from Key West
 last year. ``I think one day you'll turn on the TV, the kid will have been sent home,
 and nobody will give a damn. I just want someone in authority to say, `Yes, this is
 what happened. These people told the truth.' ''

 The U.S. State Department gave police photographs of the two dozen employees
 assigned to the Cuban Interests Section, the island's diplomatic mission. A
 detective who works the overnight shift showed photographs to the bulk of the
 protesters who said they were punched, hit with flag poles and tossed to the

 At least four victims identified Cuban employees, the victims said.

 ``I identified one guy,'' Noda said. ``I singled out two for sure,'' said one protester
 who feared reprisals if his name were published. ``There were others I had a good
 feeling about.''

 Federal sources told The Herald that detectives are also examining a surveillance
 video taken by a U.S. government agency. The video, sources said, did not
 capture the fracas but is being used to help determine who's who.

 A friend of one of the suspects told The Herald that the Cuban government sent
 three diplomats home Sunday because of the incident.

 The source said First Secretary Fernando Perez Maza told him he and two
 underlings were booted out of their assignments here because their government
 did not wish to battle the United States over the incident.

 State Department officials said they had no information on departing diplomats
 but that the Cuban mission still has 30 days to notify that they had left.

 Cuban Interests Section spokesman Luis Fernandez denied that anyone had
 been reassigned, and said he's heard nothing about the police probe.

 ``All the chicks are with their hen,'' Fernandez said, using a common Cuban

 Fernandez said protesters provoked the attack by insulting the mission's women
 and children, a charge they deny. The Cubans say several staffers were trying to
 make their way past the protesters, who heckled them and tossed objects
 through the Interests Section gates.

 Even Perez Maza's friend acknowledged that the Interests Section employees
 charged at the heckling protesters, but stressed that no one was hurt.

 The uniform Secret Service officer assigned to keep an eye on the protest that
 night filed a report backing the protesters' account.

 ``The Cuban first secretary was interviewed and refused to provide a list of names
 of possible suspects,'' agent Matthew Schaeffer wrote.

 State Department officials said they are waiting for the D.C. Police's investigative
 report. Once completed, the State Department will ask local prosecutors whether
 the incident would normally have resulted in arrest, had it not involved people
 protected by diplomatic immunity.

 If the suspects cannot be criminally charged, the State Department would then
 ask Cuba to waive immunity.

 If they refuse -- as they did in 1995 after an identical incident in New York -- the
 diplomat would be kicked out of the country and listed in an INS ``look-out book.''
 Two Cubans were expelled after the 1995 brawl.

 ``The Cubans have yet to explain themselves on this,'' one State Department
 official said.

 ``We have asked on a number of occasions and they have yet to give us a
 satisfactory answer on their version of events.''