- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

Two members of Congress want the Justice Department to explain why no charges have been brought against officials at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington who took part in an unprovoked attack two years ago against anti-Castro demonstrators.
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, both Florida Republicans, said 10 Cuban officials suspected in the attacks that injured several people, including four women, have neither been charged with aggravated assault nor ordered out of the country.
"I am disappointed nothing has happened in this case, despite overwhelming evidence and a grand jury investigation," Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said. "There always is an on-edge relationship with Cuba but we seem to be willing to sweep this attack under the rug in order not to antagonize the Cuban government.
"Are we saying that Cuban Americans who get assaulted are not going to be protected by their own government?" she asked.
The concerns of the two lawmakers were relayed in a letter yesterday to Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Several demonstrators were injured April 2000 when they were attacked with fists, feet and flagpoles. Those attacked filed criminal charges against the Cubans and later identified the attackers in a photo lineup for an investigation by the Metropolitan Police Department.
The victims also testified before a federal grand jury in July and August 2000.
At the time, some members of Congress, including Sen. Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican who was then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright to revoke diplomatic immunity for those involved in the melee and to seek charges of aggravated assault.
Mr. Helms described the attack as "savage behavior" that "is just another day at the office for Castro's police in Havana.
"But when it happens on the streets of our nation's capital, it is outrageous and intolerable," he said, urging Mrs. Albright to expel the diplomats if the Cuban government refused to cooperate.
The Clinton administration did not respond to the requests, and it is not clear where the matter now stands.
A Metropolitan Police Department report said the assault at the Cuban Interests Section, on the grounds of the Swiss Embassy on 16th Street NW, occurred April 14, 2000, about 7:30 p.m. The report said 10 unidentified Cuban employees ran out of the mission and began to hit demonstrators on the front sidewalk.
The report said 20 anti-Castro Cuban Americans were on the street protesting the return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba.
Brigida Benitez, a D.C. lawyer who was among the demonstrators, said this week that several men emerged from the Cuban Interests Section and, "after rolling up their sleeves, they began to physically assault us.
"They rushed us immediately, yelling obscenities in Spanish," she said. "There was no verbal altercation. We were punched, kicked and beaten with flagpoles by the men. The group of demonstrators did not fight back. The attack was entirely unprovoked. We had no time to do anything but take their blows."
Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said if the attackers have diplomatic immunity, the State Department should declare them persona non grata and expel them from the United States. She also said if some of them have since left the country, the government should bar them from re-entering.
She said that according to published reports, the government has a surveillance tape of the incident, which she said should help an inquiry and be made public.
Jose Truman Acuna, who lives near the Cuban Interests Section, said in a sworn affidavit that he witnessed the attack and that people from inside the Cuban Interests Section waited until the press left before coming out of the building to assault the demonstrators.
Mr. Acuna said the Cuban officials "violently attacked the demonstrators with punches and kicks and even a metal object."
After the attack, business cards belonging to Armando Collazo Iglesias, a first secretary at the Cuban Interests Section, were found on the street. The Cuban Interests Section has not commented on the attack.

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