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DATE=12/8/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=CUBAN EXILE TRIAL (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-256986 BYLINE=MARTY DELFIN DATELINE=SAN JUAN, PR INTERNET=YES CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: A federal jury in Puerto Rico on Wednesday acquitted five Cuban exiles who were on trial for plotting to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro. The judge dropped the charges on one of the defendants last week for lack of evidence. As Marty Delfin reports from San Juan, it was the first time ever the U-S government has put anyone on trial for conspiring to kill the Cuban leader. TEXT: After the verdicts were read, the defendants. all of them middle-aged men.cried and hugged their lawyers. One of the accused stood up and saluted the jury. For the past 14 days, U-S government prosecutors tried to convince jurors that the five men conspired three years ago to kill Fidel Castro on the Venezuelan Island of Margarita. Mr. Castro was in Venezuela in 1997 to attend the Ibero American summit of Latin American leaders. Days before the summit, three of the men on trial were arrested by U-S authorities after their boat docked in Puerto Rico. While searching the vessel, U-S customs agents found two high-powered rifles, night vision equipment, and ammunition in a secret compartment on board their boat. According to testimony given at the trial, one of the men.Angel Alfonso.told authorities that they were on their way to murder Fidel Castro. After a subsequent investigation, government prosecutors also charged three other men in the conspiracy including Jose Antonio Llama who is a board member of the National Cuban American Foundation. It was a delicate case for the U-S government. Many in the Cuban exile community saw the trial as a contradictory proceeding in view of the U-S governments past support of clandestine operation against Castro's own government. But defense lawyers argued that their clients were on their way to Margarita Island to demonstrate against Castro and rescue any defectors from the Cuban delegation. During the trial, they appealed to the jury to understand why Cuban exiles take their cause seriously. One juror said afterwards he wanted to send a message to the Cuban community in acquitting the defendants not to give up hope that one day they will be able to return to their homeland. Besides Mr. Alfonso and Mr. Llama, those acquitted were Jose Rodriguez Sosa, Angel Hernandez Rojo and Francisco Secundino Cordova. The five defendants faced more than 30 years in prison if they were found guilty on all counts. While he said he respected the jury's decision, Federal Prosecutor Scott Glick said, the U-S government will continue to charge anyone who conspires to assassinate any world leader. (Signed) NEB/MD/TVM-T/PLM 08-Dec-1999 23:32 PM EDT (09-Dec-1999 0432 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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