October 12, 2000
Andres Oppenheimer. Published Thursday, October 12, 2000, in the Miami Herald
The more we hear about Mexico's deportation last week of a Cuban spy who wanted to defect in Mexico City, the more obvious it becomes that the Mexican government has put a man's life in danger and broken a fundamental principle of international human rights law.
What's even more surprising is that, confronted with protests from the U.S. Embassy and international human rights groups, the Mexican Foreign Ministry issued a communiqué reminiscent of the darkest days of Mexico's authoritarian rule, when it resorted to a knee-jerk nationalism to cover up human rights violations.
The communiqué published Wednesday said that the Foreign Ministry "has not received, nor will comply with, any petition from a third country's government in regards to explaining or clarifying the implementation of its laws.''
In an apparent suggestion that it will not ask Cuba for an interview with deported Cuban intelligence officer Pedro Riera Escalante, the statement added that Mexico will not accept "any kind of suggestion or pressure from foreign governments that could lead to intervention in another nation's internal affairs.''
Hours earlier, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Jeffrey Davidow, had told reporters that "perhaps it would be a good step'' for the Mexican government to ask its embassy in Cuba to visit Riera Escalante and make sure he is being treated properly.
International human rights groups have been more outspoken, warning that Riera Escalante could face treason charges in Cuba, which carry a death sentence.
Riera Escalante, who served as Cuba's consul in Mexico between 1986 and 1992, was arrested on a downtown Mexico City street Oct. 3 as he was walking out of a meeting with a Mexican government official, one of several with whom he had been discussing his plans to defect.
The Cuban was deported to Cuba on the following day. Mexico described it as a routine procedure for a foreigner who was in Mexico without proper documentation.
But Riera Escalante had been smart enough to take a Cuban-exile journalist, Edelmiro Castellanos, to all his meetings with senior Mexican officials. He had also talked to the daily Reforma and to a U.S. journalist about his career as a Cuban intelligence officer in Mexico, during which he said he had helped recruit 150 Mexican informants.
There are widespread suspicions that the Mexican government deported him because he knew too much and could create a domestic scandal in Mexico. Or it may have been a screw up by Mexico's migration authorities, who may have forgotten that Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo has publicly criticized the absence of fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
A top Mexican official told me privately that Riera Escalante was probably still working for the Castro regime and may have been trying to create an international incident. If so, Riera Escalante may be in no danger at all in Cuba.
But if his defection was sincere, and Riera Escalante is being tortured in prison, the least thing Mexico should do is to ask for a personal visit with him. Hiding human rights abuses behind a "non-intervention'' curtain may have worked in the 19th Century, but is a dated excuse in the 21st.
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald
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