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.