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Special Event

Cuban Interests Section Says Imperatori Resigned from Post, Chose to Stay in U.S.

Aired February 26, 2000 - 1:04 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: And we are going now to Cuban Interests Section here in Washington. It is attached to the Swiss embassy. The focal point is Jose Imperatori, ordered to leave this country by the State Department, he says he will not leave, and in fact, he says he is going on hunger strike.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chief of the interest section please welcome, please. In order to identify the media (OFF-MIKE) we remain. First, we are going to say some words. (OFF-MIKE) is going to deliver a statement that Jose Imperatori, the diplomat, delivered this morning. And if you have any question, you can wait until the last (OFF-MIKE).

KURT SCHMOKE, FORMER BALTIMORE MAYOR: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, I just have a brief statement.

I am Kurt Schmoke, former mayor of Baltimore and an attorney in private practice. The -- I was retained by the Cuban Interests Section to represent Mr. Jose Imperatori, who is the second secretary here at the interest section and is the diplomat at issue in these proceedings.

As you may know this morning, Mr. Imperatori announced his intention to stay in this country, to resign from the -- his work here, to go on to hunger strike in order to clear his name.

Because he is being asked to leave this country by 1:30, I have to go up to his house. He is at his house, not at the interest section. I simply wanted to say just a couple of things. That the secretary of state has indicated that this action is unprecedented, and not -- a country not returning a diplomat. We agree that it's unprecedented. It's true. But Mr. Imperatori wanted to make it very clear that he in no way, absolutely in no way, is involved in espionage, that the Cuban Interests Section is not involved in that type of activity, that he wants to work together with the U.S. government to clear up this matter. We are not trying to fight with the United States government. But Mr. Imperatori feels that a grave injustice would be done to force him to leave this country without clearing up these matters and clearing his name, the name of the interest section and resolving this problem. So, Ambassador Ramirez and Mr. Wilson will give you much more detail, but I just want you to know that he is represented, Mr. Imperatori is represented, by counsel, and because of the not knowing what steps to government may take as of 1:30, when he supposed to leave, I must go up to make sure that we protect his interests -- Mr. Ambassador.

QUESTION: Can you give us any indication where that is?

SCHMOKE: Yes, he is at his apartment in Bethesda.

QUESTION: Where?

SCHMOKE: On River Road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 5105 River Road.

SCHMOKE: Actually 5101 River Road. It's the Kenwood apartments, apartment 1015. So obviously, the government has a number of options, and they could exercise those options as of 1:30.

FELIX WILSON, CUBAN INTERESTS SECTION: Let me read the statement of Mr. Imperatori to the American people. "I have become the victim of a major slander. I have been wrongly accused of doing intelligence work in the United States. It has been said that an Immigration and Naturalization Service official, who according to his own bosses has rendered major services to this country for 34 years was a spy and a traitor, passing information to Cuban government through me, thus affecting security of this nation.

"Such news, has been the disseminated around the world. And my diplomat delegation has been asked to recall me from this country within seven days. This happened 32 hours before a federal court hearing was to decide on the fate of the 6-year-old Cuban child Elian Gonzalez, who has been held captive in Miami for three months now.

"These arbitrary action comes a devastating blow on the prestige and authority of the INS commissioner, who has recognized the legitimate right of full parental authority to a surviving parent, who lives in Cuba with the child's four grandparents.

"Ever since its opening 22 years ago, the interest section officials were categorically and precisely instructed not to do intelligence work in the United States. Such instructions have been strictly observed and with absolutely no exceptions. This is not only the first time that something like it happened with a Cuban official in our interest section, but it also occurs in a rather untimely and bizarre way, at a time when an extremely sensitive legal case is unfolding.

"The accusation brought against me is absolutely false. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to state that the INS official is innocent of the accusation of espionage made against him, and I can help to prove it.

"Today, at 7:00 a.m., six and a half hours before the deadline set for my departure, I submitted my resignation to the position I held at the interest section of Cuban in Washington. In so doing, I have also gave up the guarantees and immunity I enjoy which would have been effective until 1:30 p.m. I've also refused to be covered by the immunity accorded to the premises occupied by our diplomatic delegation.

"My wife and my 3-year-old son left for Cuba last night since, by said time, they, too, would have been without guarantees or immunity. This decision I make of my own free will. I no longer belong to the interest section. I assume all responsibilities and the consequence thereof.

"I'm just a Cuban revolutionary who loves very deeply my homeland, my wife and my children. I shall firmly endure any sacrifices, regardless of how hard it may be. But not only me, also my predecessor, deputy counsel Louis Mouina (ph), who has been targeted with the same accusation, is willing to travel to the United States without any guarantees or immunity, taking similar risks, to contribute to clear up this case.

"I shall remain in same apartment where I have lived, and from this moment I declare myself in a hunger strike until I have been absolutely cleared of the accusation brought against me. I shall not resist arrest, not even if I am handcuffed and jailed. My morale and my truth will be my shield. I beg the American people to understand me and to excuse me.

"Jose Imperatori, 11:00 a.m., February 26, year 2000."

Well, you will have copies of this statement from Mr. Imperatori available to you.

Please any questions -- please?

QUESTION: I can pose the question in English, but I would like also the answer in Spanish.

I would like to know what is the logic behind this course of action taken by the interest section, because, if according to your reasoning, there is a conspiration behind this, wasn't it better just to send the diplomat home so that the Elian case could move on without any other complications?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want the answer in English or Spanish? Spanish?

Well, English first. Well, no. The answer is no. Because if we accept that Mr. Imperatori return to Cuba, we (OFF-MIKE) his innocence, and we will accept that he was guilty of something wrong. And we want to be very clear that he is completely innocent, that he didn't do anything wrong, that the Cuban Interests Section in Washington don't do any kind of intelligence or espionage activities, and everything is a result of conspiracy. And the only way, or the best way, to prove that what's we are saying is the truth, is the willing that Mr. Imperatori, in a volunteer form, his willingness to stay in this country without his privilege, without his diplomatic immunity, just to declare, to testimony his position and the truth this case.

(SPEAKING IN SPANISH)

RANDALL: The top ranking Cuban diplomat here in Washington announcing that Jose Imperatori has resigned from the Cuban Interests Section, that he has chosen to stay in this country. The State Department had given him until 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time this afternoon to leave, after connecting him to a top INS official Miami who has been charged with spying for Cuba.

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