- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Five Cuban officials have been charged with conspiring to threaten and assault anti-Castro demonstrators two years ago outside the Cuban Interests Section in the District, U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr. said yesterday.

Named in a criminal complaint filed Friday and made public yesterday were Eugenio Martinez Enriquez, Fernando Perez Maza, Damien Michael Ravelo Avila, Joel Marrero Enriquez and Armando Leonardo Collazo Iglesias accused in the April 14, 2000, attack in Northwest that injured several people, including four women.

All five Cubans, who claimed diplomatic immunity, have returned to their country.

The demonstrators, protesting the then-pending return to Cuba of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, were injured when they were attacked with fists, feet and flagpoles by at least 10 men who stormed out of the diplomatic mission.

The 20 anti-Castro Cuban-Americans sought criminal charges against the Cuban diplomats, and several later identified the attackers in a photo lineup by the Metropolitan Police Department.

The victims also testified before a federal grand jury in July and August 2000.

"Several demonstrators were kicked and punched, and a few were struck with the very signs and placards they were holding during the protest," Mr. Howard said, adding that when uniformed U.S. Secret Service officers intervened, several of the mission employees "resisted the officers' attempts to separate the two groups."

The complaint said the five Cubans unlawfully sought to "conspire, confederate and agree to assault and threaten" the victims from peacefully protesting outside the mission, located on the grounds of the Swiss Embassy on 16th Street NW. A Metropolitan Police Department report said the assault occurred at about 7:30 p.m.

Brigida Benitez, a lawyer who was among the protesters, said the men emerged from the mission and, "after rolling up their sleeves, they began to physically assault us." She said the men yelled obscenities in Spanish and the demonstrators were punched, kicked and beaten.

"The group of demonstrators did not fight back," she said. "The attack was entirely unprovoked. We had no time to do anything but take their blows."

She said that as a result of the criminal complaint, the five Cubans will never again receive visas to visit the United States.

Elian was the focus of a months-long debate over his return with his father to Cuba following his rescue at sea in November 1999. A week after the D.C. attack, Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the boy seized by federal agents from the Florida relatives where he was staying and he was sent home in late June.

The Cuban mission had no immediate comment yesterday on the complaint. But at the time of the attack, Luis Fernandez, mission spokesman, said the demonstrators engaged in provocative actions, insulted women and children at the mission, and passed unidentified objects through the fence.

The complaint, however, said the demonstrators were peaceful and the protesters did not yell, threaten, use obscenities, trespass or vandalize the mission.

It said the demonstrators, who carried signs saying "Bring Democracy to Cuba," "Keep Elian in America" and "We Are All Brothers," did not incite any confrontation.

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