A government prosecutor was seeking prison terms of up to 12 years as 23 men went on trial Wednesday in the violent occupation of the Mexican Embassy in Cuba three years ago.
A group of young men stole a bus and crashed it through the gates of the mission in late February 2002 amid a wave of rumors that the Mexican Embassy was issuing visas to all Cubans who showed up.
Members of the group demanded visas and refused to leave before they were arrested less than two days later by specially trained Cuban police in a lightning fast pre-dawn eviction.
“I think that everything will go well,” Nancy Perez, wife of defendant Enrique Mendez Sosa, said outside the courthouse before the trial opened Wednesday morning. Her husband is among a dozen men the prosecution has recommended for 12 year prison terms.
Two relatives per defendant were being allowed into the trial at the Popular Municipal Tribunal in Havana in 10 de Octubre neighborhood. Proceedings were closed to international media.
The prosecution also has sought 10 year sentences for another six defendants and five years for the remainder, according to the non-governmental Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Fidel Castro’s government accused the U.S. government’s Radio Marti of provoking the occupation by repeatedly broadcasting a sound bite by then-Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda by saying that the embassy’s doors “are open” to Cuban citizens.
Officials for Radio Marti, operated in Miami by anti-Castro Cuban exiles, denied provoking the rumors, which drew hundreds of people to the mission seeking visas.
Castaneda later said his comments, made during a visit to Florida that week, were taken out of context.
A written statement by the human rights commission said that hundreds of people were rounded up at the time and all were released in subsequent weeks and months with the exception of the 23 going on trial.