Spy Convictions Overturned in Miami

A federal appeals court in Atlanta overturns the convictions of five men who were part of an alleged spy ring, working on behalf of the Cuban government. The three-judge panel ruled that an anti-Castro bias in the Miami area kept the men from getting a fair trial in 2001.

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A federal appeals court has overturned the convictions of five men who allegedly joined a spy ring. They were convicted of working on behalf of the Cuban government. In reversing that conviction, a three-judge panel said the men did not get a fair trial in 2001. That's because the trial involved the government of Fidel Castro, and the jury was chosen in Miami. NPR's Luke Burbank reports.

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

There's a saying here in south Florida that Miami is the only US city that gets to make its own foreign policy. And while that's not technically true, there's no denying the strong influence wielded by the over half-million Cuban Americans who live here. That influence, which is overwhelmingly anti-Fidel Castro, was a large part of why the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided yesterday to throw out the convictions of five men accused of spying for the Cuban government. Three had been facing life terms, while the other two were serving 15- and 19-year sentences. Richard Klug represented one of the accused.

Mr. RICHARD KLUG (Attorney): All of the evidence pointed in the same direction, that this was a community where things were a little bit skewed in the direction of a belief in the malevolence of any individual who would act on behalf of the government of Cuba.

BURBANK: In other words, the appeals court felt that anti-Castro sentiments, pushed largely by Cuban Americans, run so high in Miami that even a jury made up of non-Cubans was unable to render a fair verdict.

Mr. MANNY VAZQUEZ (Cuban American National Foundation): That's a lot of baloney. You know, that's crap.

BURBANK: Manny Vazquez is a board member with the Cuban American National Foundation. He sits in his living room in the Coral Gables neighborhood holding a copy of the 93-page ruling.

Mr. VAZQUEZ: The jury that was impaneled was a fair and impartial jury. There were no Cubans in the jury. Miami-Dade County is a huge county.

BURBANK: Vazquez's group was one of the Cuban exile organizations that the government alleges the spies infiltrated. Their intention was to relay information back to the Cuban government. The men were also accused of trying to get access to the Southern Command, which supervises US military activity in the Caribbean and Latin America. And the group's leader was convicted of contributing to the death of four exiles whose plane was shot down by Cuban fighter jets in 1996. It's now up to the government to decide if it wants to retry the case, which it is expected to do. If that does happen, though, it won't happen in Miami. Any future location for a trial is yet to be picked. Luke Burbank, NPR News, Miami.

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