Cuban Community in Miami Rallies Behind Anti-Castro Activist

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2006

MIAMI -- He is, depending upon whom you talk to, either a terrorist or a patriot.

The trial of Santiago Alvarez, a 65-year-old businessman here, is scheduled to begin this week on federal charges of maintaining an illegal armory of machine guns, C-4 explosive and hand grenades at a suburban apartment complex he owned.

Federal prosecutors say the anti-Castro crusader was storing "a staggering amount of illegal weaponry and ammunition." The Cuban government, the presumed target, has denounced him as a terrorist.

But in this city of Cuban immigrants and countless schemes to invade the island and topple the Castro regime, the moral distinctions that elsewhere underlie global antiterrorism efforts seem harder to fix precisely. Alvarez's alleged stash is viewed by some less as a criminal offense than as a noble quest.

"He's a patriot," Miguel Saavedra, leader of the hard-line anti-Castro group Vigilia Mambisa, said of Alvarez. "I don't see any good reason to prosecute him."

Particularly galling for many anti-Castro campaigners here is that one of their own has been charged as a criminal for conducting a campaign against Cuba. The country is included on the State Department's list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism," along with Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

Making matters worse, Alvarez's advocates say, is the slim likelihood of having a Cuban American on the jury -- because the indictment was made in Fort Lauderdale, rather than in Miami, the jury pool will be drawn far from the large Cuban community of Miami-Dade.

Dozens of his supporters staged a protest on the courthouse steps here last year chanting " Libertad! " On Friday evenings, Saavedra and others stand outside the federal detention center holding a Cuban flag and a U.S. flag.

"We just want a chance to fight Fidel Castro," Saavedra said. "But the U.S. government is not giving us that chance."

It's a fight, he says, that is justified by Cuba's role in the world.

According to a State Department terrorism report, "the government of Cuba maintains close relationships with other state sponsors of terror such as Iran and North Korea, and has provided safe haven to members of ETA, FARC and the ELN," citing terrorist groups in Spain and Colombia.

Before his arrest, Alvarez may have been best known for his advocacy on behalf of Luis Posada Carriles, a CIA-trained Cuban immigrant linked to the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people in 1976 and to other violent plots. When Posada sought asylum in the United States last year, it was Alvarez who helped present his case to the public.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company