HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba has arrested four Miami-based exiles suspected of planning attacks on military installations with the goal of promoting anti-government violence on the communist-run island, the Interior Ministry said.
Labeling the suspects as “terrorists,” it said in a statement late on Tuesday they were linked to Luis Posada Carriles, 86, a Cuban exile and former CIA operative living in Miami who for many years sought to overthrow former President Fidel Castro.
The April 26 arrests could antagonize the already poor relations between Washington and Havana, and the case recalled a series of plots from the exile community in Miami against Cuba.
Cuba said it would contact U.S. officials about the investigation and that the four suspects had admitted to planning the attacks. By reaching out to U.S. authorities, Cuba said it hoped to “avoid acts by terrorist organizations or elements located in that country.”
The State Department said it had seen the Cuban statement but had no further information.
“The Cuban government has also not been in touch with us yet on these cases,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
The suspects were identified as Jose Ortega Amador, Obdulio Rodriguez Gonzalez, Raibel Pacheco Santos and Felix Monzon Alvarez, relative unknowns among Miami exiles.
Cuba said they were working for three others in Miami, who are well known, and who had close ties to Posada Carriles, a polarizing figure seen as a terrorist in Cuba but a hero to some anti-Castro exiles.
A lawyer for Posada Carriles denied any connection to the allegations. “No basis at all,” attorney Arturo Hernandez said.
At least two of the three other so-called masterminds, Santiago Alvarez and Osvaldo Mitat, have been active in the militant, anti-Castro exile movement. Both pleaded guilty in 2006 to criminal conspiracy in a plea deal to avoid more serious charges of possessing machine guns, a grenade launcher and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Alvarez denied any link, saying he had never heard of the men who were arrested.
“This is just a bunch of lies,” Santiago Alvarez said. “They need to shift the blame from the economic situation they are in and entertain people with stories about Miami terrorists.”
Another man linked by Cuba to the plot, a well-known Miami area doctor, Manuel Alzugaray, went on Spanish-language TV in Miami on Wednesday night to deny any link to the arrested men. “I don’t recognize any of their names,” he told the Mega TV show, Ahora Con Oscar Haza.
The president of a local charity, Miami Medical Team Foundation, Alzugaray said he had been dedicated to humanitarian work for three decades, including sending medicines to Cuba.
A man who identified himself as Raibel Pacheco was listed as director of a short-lived and previously unknown Florida non-profit, the Fuerza Cubana de Liberacion Inc, which was created to “help the people of Cuba reconquer their democracy and their lost liberties,” according to the Florida state records.
Reuters could not confirm if he was the same Raibel Pacheco named by Cuba as one of the arrested suspects.
Posada Carriles is wanted in Cuba and Venezuela in relation to the bombing of a Cubana Airlines jet in 1976 that killed 73 people. He is also suspected of involvement in hotel bombings in 1997 aimed at destabilizing Cuba and scaring away tourists.
Cuba has recently intensified its criticism of the United States for what it considers efforts to destabilize the country. It has also railed against the State Department for once again naming Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism in an annual report on April 30.
Additional reporting by David Adams in Miami; Editing by G Crosse, Kieran Murray and Eric Walsh