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Cuban Community in Miami Rallies Behind Anti-Castro Activist

"He's been a fighter against Castro all his life," Alvarez said of Posada, whom he called a hero. "He advocates violence, but that does not mean violence and terrorism are the same thing."

His association with Posada and other campaigns has earned him the enmity of the Castro regime, according to some press accounts. Supporters say that made Alvarez a likely target for a setup by the Cuban government.

Castro "for an extended period of time campaigned openly in several speeches for the arrest of Mr. Alvarez," according to a defense document filed in March.

The case against Alvarez and his employee, Osvaldo Mitat, began last year when Customs agents intercepted a FedEx package from Guatemala to Alvarez's office in Hialeah, Fla. Inside a book entitled "Cuba Mia" (My Cuba), agents found a fraudulent Guatemalan passport and a fake identity card.

Agents searched Alvarez's office and found electrical switches and detonating cord for explosives. A confidential informant told the agents that Alvarez had asked him to transport a large white cooler of weapons from the apartment complex where they had been stored to a Miami location, according to the agents' affidavit.

Once the informant delivered the cooler to Mitat, agents moved in. They discovered inside the cooler three live grenades, a grenade launcher, four fully automatic machine guns, a silencer and other weapons, some with the serial numbers obliterated.

"Unfortunately, you guys are doing your job and we got caught with a bunch of guns," Mitat said at the time, according to the agents' account. "I love the United States and would never do anything to hurt this country. These guns were not meant to be used against this country."

The outcome of the trial is expected to turn at least partly on the credibility of the confidential informant, who has been identified as Gilberto Abascal, a former Alvarez employee.

Prosecutors disclosed in April that Abascal was sharing information with a Cuban government official known as "Daniel." Defense attorneys are expected to portray him as a mentally ill "double agent" who cannot be trusted.

Yet a substantial portion of the pretrial maneuvering has concerned exactly who will sit in judgment of Alvarez and Mitat -- and more precisely, how many Cuban Americans are likely to turn up in the jury pool.

Federal prosecutors sought the indictment in Fort Lauderdale, meaning the trial will be heard by a jury from Broward County, where roughly one in 25 people are of Cuban descent. Prosecutors justified the location by saying the apartment complex where the weapons had been stored is in a Fort Lauderdale suburb.

Defense attorneys, noting that the arrests were in Miami-Dade, have charged that the Fort Lauderdale location was strategic -- and discriminatory -- because it avoids a trial in Miami-Dade, where nearly one in three people are of Cuban descent.

"The government's decision to indict in Fort Lauderdale to move the case to Broward County is no accident," they wrote. "No experienced attorney could fairly deny the dramatic difference in jury composition that has resulted."

While U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn has denied two defense motions intended to draw more Cuban Americans into the jury pool, the issue continues to roil debate about the trial and its larger meanings here.

"The Cuban-American community is still suffering from the Elian [Gonzalez] case and the demonization it suffered," Jaime Suchlicki, a University of Miami history professor and Cuba expert, wrote in an affidavit for the defense. "The media and elements of the U.S. government stereotyped the Cuban-Americans as 'terrorists,' 'violators of laws', and 'radical right wingers.' "

"This case," he wrote, " has meaning beyond its facts."

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