Wednesday, January 25, 2006

FIU Spy case

Miami Herald Posted on Wed, Jan. 25, 2006

Couple spied on president of FIU, FBI says
Accused Cuban spies targeted the president of Florida International University, according to a government affidavit.

Carlos M. and Elsa Alvarez spied on Florida International University President Modesto ''Mitch'' Maidique, giving details in at least one report to their Cuban intelligence handlers about a White House invitation Maidique received, according to a government affidavit obtained by The Miami Herald.

FBI agents executed a search warrant at FIU Jan. 12, and seized the Alvarezes' computers from their respective offices. That search was a follow-up to the FBI's discoveries in the Alvarezes' home computers, which were linked to those at their offices, according to an FBI affidavit.

The document offers a first glimpse at the information the FBI believes the Alvarezes -- charged with failing to register as foreign agents -- provided to Cuban intelligence agents over the last three decades.

Cristina Mendoza, FIU's general counsel, said university officials sealed off the couple's campus offices and university police have stood guard around the clock. Mendoza said the FBI agents, at the university's request, scheduled their search for the night of Jan. 12 so they would not disrupt the campus during the day.

Mendoza said the FBI has not asked to talk with Maidique, who was close to the couple. They allegedly gathered information about Maidique and other leaders in Miami's exile community.

The Alvarezes' home computers turned up the White House invitation report, as well as others.

''Both Carlos and Elsa Alvarez reported on prominent university-level academics in South Florida,'' the affidavit said. ``These targets included colleagues of the Alvarezes at FIU, and included Modesto Maidique . . . This information has been verified by data taken from the home computer of the Alvarezes, which shows them reporting on the activities of President Maidique, including an invitation he received to attend a function at the White House.''

FIU spokesman Mark Riordan said Maidique declined to comment on the affidavit. Maidique has been to the White House at least a dozen times over the years, Riordan said. Earlier this month, U.S. authorities accused Elsa Prieto Alvarez, 55, and her husband, Carlos Alvarez, 61, of operating as covert agents for Cuba for decades. U.S. prosecutors said Carlos Alvarez, an associate professor at FIU, had spied for Cuba since 1977 and his wife, a psychology counselor at the university, since 1982.

The Alvarezes' home computers were linked to their office computers, and the FBI believes the Alvarezes could ``electronically access student records and faculty information via home and office computer.''


Carlos Alvarez traveled to Cuba and other countries under the auspices of FIU and other academic institutions. ''While on these overseas trips, and using the cover of FIU academics, Carlos Alvarez would meet with their handlers or supervisors from the DI [Cuba's Directorate of Intelligence] to receive new assignments and tender reports on completed assignments,'' the affidavit said.

The affidavit also sheds light on the requests Cuba sent to Carlos Alvarez to recruit students. Alvarez voluntarily reported to the DI that one of his students was an FBI analyst. Alvarez feared that his DI status might be compromised if his superiors found out that he was interacting with an FBI employee.

The affidavit also attempts to link the professor's recruitment efforts to Puentes Cubanos, or Cuban Bridges, a nonprofit group that is not affiliated with FIU.

''Moreover, in 2002, the DI assigned Carlos Alvarez to begin screening and evaluating students, some of them at FIU, that would be traveling to Cuba as part of an exchange program known as Puentes Cubanos,'' the affidavit said. ``The DI was interested in which of these exchange students would be amenable to recruitment by the DI. Although Carlos Alvarez stated that he never received a follow-up request for actual names of potential recruits, he has stated to FBI agents that he would have provided that information if asked.''

The affidavit does not give a date for Maidique's White House invitation. But Maidique has been a strong supporter of the last three Republican presidents, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush. Miami Herald archives show that Maidique, a member of the current president's education advisory panel, attended an East Room ceremony at the White House in January 2001.

The Alvarezes used their FIU colleagues to gather information on other people ''of interest'' to the Cuban government, the affidavit said.

''In one instance, Carlos Alvarez inquired of another FIU professor regarding a meeting between a third professor and a member of the Clinton administration who was believed to favor increased academic exchanges between the United States and Cuba,'' the affidavit said.


Anti-Castro exile leaders were shaken by the new details.

''My God, that's something!'' said Brothers to the Rescue Founder Jose Basulto, whose group has been infiltrated by Cuban spies.

FIU officials said the FBI interviewed the university's information technology manager before the Jan. 12 search and plans to return to the campus to interview other employees.

Agents compiled the seized materials on two one-page inventory lists and gave them to the university.

Miami Herald staff writer Luisa Yanez contributed to this report.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Cuban Americans foresee rise of a `climate of fear'

Posted on Sun, Jan. 15, 2006

Cuban Americans foresee rise of a `climate of fear'
The arrest of two spy suspects has spread fear among Cuban exiles who support contact with the Castro government as a way to ease tension.


Fallout from the Florida International University spy scandal is spreading throughout segments of Miami's Cuban-American community, sparking concerns that the affair is fostering a climate of fear among exiles who favor dialogue with communist Cuba.

Already, several of those people have refused to comment publicly about their concerns, and others have expressed alarm that last week's arrest of FIU employees Carlos Alvarez and his wife, Elsa Prieto Alvarez, could prompt pro-dialogue exiles to be less willing to voice views.

The latest spasm in Cuban exile politics comes against a backdrop of increasing tension with Cuba in the aftermath of tougher Bush administration policies restricting travel and money remittances to the island and ongoing efforts to further toughen the U.S. posture toward Cuba. To some, the FIU affair can define today's climate of retrenchment both in Miami and in Cuba -- one echoing a dangerous past when being pro-dialogue was seen by some as tantamount to treason.

''This opens the door to a witch hunt,'' said Bernardo Benes, who helped bring about an era of rapprochement in the late 1970s when the Fidel Castro regime allowed exiles to return for family visits. ''I'm sad that evil people take advantage of moments like this to promote their evil ideas and impose on people more control of the community,'' Benes said.

While many exiles who favor reconciliation or compromise expressed qualms, some Cuban Americans on the opposite side of the political spectrum believe that fears are exaggerated or unfounded.

''Only those who are doing something illegal should be worried about the U.S. government's actions,'' said Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, which gets federal grants and has no contact with Cuban government institutions.

''People who are law-abiding and are not collaborating with any foreign governments that are enemies of the United States have nothing to worry about,'' he said.

Ninoska Pérez-Castellón, president of the Cuban Liberty Council and a popular Spanish-language personality on conservative Radio Mambí, said there was no witch hunt, just a deep concern among the anti-Castro right that others in Miami might also be spying for Cuba.

''The last five years, there have been 21 Cuban spies convicted,'' she said. She added that among them was Ana Belén Montes, of Puerto Rican descent, who worked at the Pentagon and was convicted of spying for Cuba.

''These two were at a well-known public university, [allegedly] serving as agents for Castro,'' Pérez Castellón said, referring to the Alvarezes. ``Where is the witch hunt?''

Last week's arrests are different from the arrests in 1998 of five Cubans who later were convicted of spying for Havana. Those five were little known, while the Alvarezes are prominent not only in academic and intellectual circles but among those who favor dialogue.


Carlos Alvarez has been an education professor at FIU since 1974, while Elsa Prieto Alvarez has worked there as a psychological services counselor since 1999. Both have also been linked to liberal or leftist sectors of the exile community since the 1970s, and Carlos Alvarez traveled to Cuba several times for research and as a facilitator in dialogue exchanges between exiles and Cubans on the island.

Federal prosecutors charged the couple with not registering as foreign agents after investigators say they found evidence of links to Cuban intelligence. The two were accused of using shortwave radios, numerical code and computer-encrypted files to transmit information about Miami's exile community to Cuban intelligence officers.

Although officials have suggested that no other arrests are contemplated, some exile leaders who oppose compromise or dialogue with Cuban President Castro have urged the FBI to widen its investigation.

FIU Professor Lisandro Pérez, who knows Alvarez well, said the arrests could revive the charged atmosphere of the 1970s and '80s, which saw the rise of the Cuban exile left, as well as bombings in Miami linked to anti-Castro militants.

''It sort of revives the argument that the talking, the dialogue, the academic exchanges with Cuba, which the so-called left has promoted, should not be supported,'' Pérez said. ``I disagree with that, but obviously it gives greater ammunition to that argument.''

Benes, meanwhile, accused Indiana University Assistant Professor Antonio de la Cova, a Cuban exile, of helping to instigate the climate of fear by urging reporters in Miami to investigate other exiles he views as suspect. Benes said de la Cova should not be given credibility because of his background.

De la Cova was once convicted of possession of explosives. He was arrested in 1976 after FBI agents were told that Cuban exiles planned to bomb Libros Para Adultos, an adult bookstore.

In a pre-sentencing statement, De la Cova said the bookstore was picked as a target by an informant, who had convinced him that the owner was a Castro agent. He served six years of a 65-year sentence. De la Cova's files, posted on the Web at, include information on the Alvarezes.

''I'm an academic, a published author, a historian,'' he said. ``You're trying to read too much into this. Last April, Benes sent an e-mail to my boss complaining about my website, which shows his lack of respect for academic freedom -- just like the Castro regime.''


Calls for a wider search for spies are one source of fear.

''It's not the first time this has happened here in the United States,'' said Max Lesnik, who often criticizes the Bush administration and the U.S. embargo on Cuba on his Spanish-language radio show broadcast on Ocean Radio. ``This type of hysteria is taking shape in some Spanish-language Miami media, not in the wider U.S. society.''

Perhaps those most concerned about being smeared as agents for Cuba are members and former members of the Antonio Maceo Brigade, founded in the 1970s by young Cuban exiles who often split with their parents and supported the Cuban revolution.

Congressional testimony by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents in 1982 attempted to link Alvarez's wife, Elsa Prieto Alvarez, to the group. The agents said Prieto had been identified as a member of the brigade by the Rev. Manuel Espinosa, a Hialeah preacher and self-proclaimed double agent, who died in 1987.

But Andrés Gómez, longtime brigade leader, told The Miami Herald on Friday that Alvarez's wife was not a brigade member -- although he did not rule out that she may have attended a brigade meeting, or taken a trip to Cuba with the brigade from some other U.S. city.

Marifeli Pérez-Stable, a brigade founder and former member, said in an e-mail to The Miami Herald on Friday that the brigade was ``a radical expression of the currents of opinion then arising regarding the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba. The debate was as legitimate and necessary then as it is [now.]''

A regular contributor to the editorial pages of The Miami Herald, Pérez-Stable is also vice president for democratic governance at the Inter-American Dialogue, a research group in Washington. After criticizing the Castro regime in the early 1990s, she no longer travels to Cuba -- banned, she said, by the Cuban government and labeled ``persona non grata.''

''The cause of democracy must be advanced by tolerance, reason and respectful debate,'' she said. ``Otherwise, we unwittingly become like our opponents who justify any means to advance their ends.''

Monday, January 09, 2006

Cuban Spies at FIU?

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer 29 minutes ago

A college professor and his wife were charged with being longtime illegal agents of Cuban President Fidel Castro, documents filed Monday said.

Documents filed U.S. District Court show that Carlos Alvarez, a psychology professor at Florida International University, and his wife, Elsa Alvarez, were charged with acting as an agent of Cuba without registering with the U.S. government as required.

The two were scheduled to make an initial court appearance Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrea Simonton, according to the documents. An indictment further describing the charges was expected to be unsealed after that court appearance, court officials said.

Alvarez is identified on the Florida International web site as an associate professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department. Elsa Alvarez is described as a coordinator in the social work training program, specializing in psychological treatment, crisis intervention and group psychotherapy.

Alvarez didn't return two phone messages left at his office. A university spokesman didn't return several calls.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Rare unease in Cuba on survival of revolution

Miami Herald
Posted on Sun, Jan. 08, 2006

Rare unease in Cuba on survival of revolution
Cuban government officials appear suddenly aware of their own -- and the socialist revolution's -- mortality, and they are talking about it openly.

First, Fidel Castro used a loaded word seldom heard in Cuban government speeches: ''self-destruct.'' Then Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque made a rare reference to a future without Castro: a ``void nobody can fill.''

And now experts are asking: Is the Cuban government for the first time undergoing an unprecedented introspection -- one that perhaps acknowledges a fragile socialist grip on the island?

In recent weeks, the Cuban government has made a series of rare public comments urging Cubans to embrace the revolution -- or risk its future. Having just celebrated the revolution's 47th anniversary, Cuban government officials are openly worrying that the generation of disaffected youth that grew up with scarcity and hard times since the early 1990s will be the very catalyst that destroys Castro's legacy.

And they're scrambling to stop it.

''This country can self-destruct,'' Castro warned during a five-hour speech Nov. 17. ``This revolution can destroy itself, but they can never destroy us; we can destroy ourselves, and it would be our fault.''

Castro's comments came as he announced a new push against corruption. He blasted thieves who live off stolen government goods, like gasoline, and said that since the crackdown, gas stations have begun to collect twice the normal revenue. His tirade against fraud came with the message that the looting of state coffers deepens class distinctions and jeopardizes the revolution.

In the following weeks, he announced economic changes, including salary hikes and electricity rate increases aimed at the ''new rich'' who damage socialism's credibility.

Castro, experts say, seems to be acknowledging his own system's failures.

Castro's comments were followed by a Dec. 23 speech at a National Assembly session by Pérez Roque, a former Castro aide who represents the younger generation of Cuban officials. Referring several times to Castro's Nov. 17 speech, he said that 1.5 million Cuban adults were about 10 years old in 1990, when Cuba began to feel in earnest the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its massive subsidies.

Those children are now grown-ups who take cheap housing and free medical care and education for granted, Pérez Roque said, and never witnessed Cuba's prerevolution poverty.

''The fact that we have resisted all these years as we have resisted and battled, doesn't in itself guarantee we will be victorious in the future,'' Pérez Roque said, according to a transcript on the Foreign Ministry website. ``I think we should pay all our attention to the call made by Fidel, that phrase never said publicly in the history of the revolution: This revolution can be reversible, and not by our enemies who have tried everything possible, but by our own mistakes.''

Experts agree that Pérez Roque's comments are important.

''I am surprised this kind of stuff is spoken of this openly,'' said Mark Falcoff, author of Cuba, The Day After. ``It suggests two things: Castro's health may be as bad as the CIA says it is, and the [communist] party leadership recognizes they are going to have a rough time when he's not there.''

Two days before Castro's November speech, The Miami Herald reported that the CIA was convinced that the Cuban leader has Parkinson's disease and that the agency had briefed lawmakers on its findings.

Falcoff said the recent comments are particularly important because they contradict the standard rhetoric in Cuban government circles that the revolution has been ''institutionalized.'' The government, he said, is admitting it failed to capture its young.

''Nothing that happens in Cuba is an accident, above all anything these people say and say publicly,'' said María Dolores Espino, an expert on Cuba at St. Thomas University. ``They are positioning themselves for the aftermath. Castro wants the survival of the revolution to be his legacy, and they are preparing for that.''