Diplomat from Cuba says she is `safe in U.S.'

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An employee in the passport section of the Cuban embassy in Mexico City who defected with her husband last week has surfaced in the United States, relatives report.

A Cuban diplomat who defected with her husband in Mexico last month has told relatives in Cuba they are in the United States, an uncle said Friday, adding that she was likely being debriefed by U.S. intelligence agents.

Yusimil Casañas had worked in the personal office of former Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, ousted last year along with former Vice President Carlos Lage and others in a purge that some Cuba analysts perceived as a sign of instability within the island's ruling class.

Casañas, 25, who was assigned to the passport section of the Cuban embassy in Mexico City, and her husband, Michel Rojas, 32, disappeared March 17 and were not heard from until Thursday, said Esteban Casañas Lostal, an uncle who lives in Canada.

Casañas called her mother in Cuba on Thursday and reported that she and Rojas were ``safe in the United States'' but that she could not reveal exactly where they were, Casañas Lostal told El Nuevo Herald.

A Rojas cousin in Miami, Jose Carrasco, told El Nuevo Herald the husband also called his mother, father and a cousin in Cuba on Thursday to report they were safe in the United States, but also gave no specific location.

``It's very likely that they are in the process of being investigated'' by U.S. intelligence, said Casañas Lostal, who noted that his niece's knowledge of Perez Roque's diplomatic and personal activities could be valuable to the U.S. government.

CIA and FBI agents regularly debrief major Cuban defectors who come to their attention, both to determine that they are not Cuban intelligence infiltrators and to obtain whatever important information they might have.

The embassy in Mexico is one of the largest Cuba has around the world, in part because Havana intelligence agents use it as a base for operations against the United States, according to U.S. intelligence experts.

Spokesmen for the CIA and Cuba's diplomatic mission in Washington declined to comment on the case Friday. The Cuban embassy in Mexico also has declined to comment, and the Mexican foreign ministry has said it knew nothing about the Casañas and Rojas defections.

Yusimil's mother, Danay Casneiro, contacted Casañas Lostal in Canada in March to notify him of the defection and ask for his help should they be detained by Mexican authorities, who could have refused them asylum and forced them back to the island.

Casañas Lostal said he had been in touch with Mexican migration and U.S. border officials in case the couple headed for the U.S. border, but had heard nothing at all until he called the relatives in Cuba on Thursday.

But the possibility that the U.S. government was harboring them rose last week when the couple's relatives in Cuba learned that the official embassy car assigned to them had been found parked near the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, said Carrasco, the Miami cousin.

Casañas and Rojas returned to Mexico City on March 17 after a vacation in Cuba, left their belongings at the embassy, took the embassy vehicle and disappeared.

Casañas also previously served in the Cubandiplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York, her uncle said.

Rojas had been involved in construction work, partly in tourist hotels in Varadero Beach east of Havana, and had no known Cuban intelligence background before their marriage two years ago in Havana, his cousin said. Spouses of Cuban diplomats posted abroad generally also work in the embassies.

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