USIS Washington 

26 August 1998


(Seven charged by Puerto Rico grand jury)  (560)

By Berta Gomez

USIA Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. policy of seeking a peaceful transition to
democracy in Cuba is unaffected by -- and unrelated to -- an August 25
indictment of seven Cuban-Americans on charges of conspiracy to murder
Cuban President Fidel Castro, says Deputy State Department Spokesman
James Foley.

"Our policy continues to be to maintain pressure on the Cuban regime
to bring about democratic change and respect for human rights, while
reaching out to support the Cuban people and to prepare them for a
peaceful and democratic transition," Foley told reporters August 26.

Foley declined specific comment on the case "because it's a law
enforcement matter," but indicated that the action was representative
of the U.S. fight against terrorism.

"This is very pertinent in this month of August, when we are dealing
with the horrible incidences of terrorism we saw in East Africa and
elsewhere," he said. "The United States government has repeatedly made
clear its commitment to fully investigate credible allegations of
violence against Cuba or any other country, supported by persons or
groups in the U.S. and to prosecute if warranted by the facts and the
law. The United States has consistently taken a strong principled
stand against the use of terrorism throughout the world."

News of the U.S. federal grand jury indictment prompted speculation in
some quarters that the United States was softening its long-standing
opposition to the Castro regime.

Foley described that idea as "ridiculous."

"The indictments, after all, were the outcome of an independent
federal law-enforcement investigation," he said. "Any change in our
policy towards Cuba would -- as President Clinton and Secretary
Albright have made clear on many occasions -- be wholly dependent on
fundamental systemic democratic change in Cuba of a kind we certainly
have not seen."

The seven men charged are: Jose Antonio Llama, Jose Rodriguez, Alfredo
Dominguez Otero, Angel Manuel Alfonso, Angel Hernandez Rojo, Juan
Bautista Marque and Francisco Secundino-Cordova.

News of the indictment drew special attention because of the
involvement of Llama, who is on the executive committee of the large
and influential Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF).

The indictment, handed down by a federal grand jury in San Juan,
Puerto Rico, says that the seven participated in a four-year
conspiracy to kill Castro "at a place outside the United States, and
at a time when Fidel Castro would have been outside the Republic of
Cuba and, therefore, an 'internationally protected person'" under U.S.
law. One potential assassination attempt would have been during
Castro's November 1997 visit to Isla Margarita, Venezuela, according
to Justice officials.

The defendants are also charged with obtaining equipment to carry out
the assassination of Castro, including two .50 caliber semi-automatic
rifles which were to be used as sniper rifles, a 46-foot boat which
had been modified to sail throughout the Caribbean without re-fueling,
and night-vision goggles.

A Justice Department spokesman said that arraignments for four of the
suspects would take place in Puerto Rico on August 27 and for the
other three on September 2. Trial dates will be set after the suspects
have been arraigned, he said.