5 exiles acquitted of trying to kill Castro

5 exiles acquitted of trying to kill Castro


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Five Cuban exiles acquitted of plotting to kill Fidel Castro left court defiant as ever against the communist leader — and bitterly resentful of the U.S. government’s first attempt to convict anyone of trying to kill the Cuban president.

“It’s hypocrisy — treason. They’re supposed to be our allies,” Jose Antonio Llamas, a director of the Cuban American National Foundation, said of the U.S. government after being acquitted.  The federal jury’s decision on Wednesday, its second day of deliberations, cleared Llamas; Angel Manuel Alfonso; Angel Hernandez Rojo; Francisco Secundino Cordova and Jose Rodriguez Sosa. All were charged with conspiracy and could have faced life in prison.

Three of the men were on a yacht stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard off Puerto Rico on Oct. 27, 1997. The Coast Guard found sniper rifles, ammunition, night-vision goggles, radios and satellite navigation equipment. Alfonso then blurted out to the officers that they were planning to kill Castro at a summit on Venezuela’s Isla Margarita.

Although there have been many reported attempts on Castro’s life — including some allegedly sponsored by the U.S. government — it was the first trial in the United States for an alleged plot against the Cuban leader.

During the trial, which began last month, prosecutors called investigators to document how the men modified the boat for the long journey from Miami and rented an apartment on Isla Margarita.

The defense said the men planned only to help members of Castro’s entourage to defect — and that the weapons were needed for protection from Cuban agents. They said Alfonso had made up the assassination story in a moment of frustration because he didn’t want to be considered a common criminal.

As the “not guilty” verdicts were read Wednesday, the accused men and their lawyers wept silently.

Outside the courthouse the defendants — all of whom fled Cuba after Castro’s 1959 revolution to become businessmen in the United States — exchanged hugs, surrounded by supporters.

“We will never stop fighting. And now that we have won once against the biggest country in the world, look out Mr. Castro,” Llamas said. He added: “I’m going to tear (Clinton’s) head off . . . I’m going to get Clinton, Gore, Monica Lewinsky and Hillary.”

During the trial, the defense repeatedly emphasized the men’s suffering as dissidents under Castro. Prosecutors urged the jury to ignore Castro’s human rights record.

In the end, said juror Amanda Collazo, the prosecutors simply failed to prove their case.