Love or spycraft: What landed an American teacher in a Cuban prison?
MIAMI — A secret marriage. A cryptic phone call. And then a flight to Cuba from which Alina López Miyares never returned.
It was months later that her family learned that López, a dual Cuban and U.S. citizen living in Miami, had gotten entangled in a murky love story steeped in international espionage. Now 62, she is serving a 13-year sentence in a Cuban prison. Her closed trial in a military court lasted a single morning.
To the Cuban government, which made its case in court documents reviewed by The New York Times, she is a traitor and a spy who slipped the names of Cuban operatives to the FBI.
To her family and her supporters in the United States, she is a guileless woman who was duped by an old flame — a Cuban diplomat and spy — and misguided by American intelligence agents. She has been detained since 2017, and they want the U.S. government to help bring her back.
“She’s very trusting, to the point where someone could call it naive,” said López’s son, Michael Peralta, a salesman in California. “She’s not a bad person. She always means well. Other people can take advantage of people who are too trusting.”
López’s lawyer, family and supporters are trying to draw President Joe Biden’s attention to her case, hoping that under his administration, the pronounced hostility that marked U.S.-Cuba relations during the Donald Trump years will fade and lead to an opportunity to discuss her case.
“I really, really want to go home,” López says in an audio message that she recorded for Biden shortly after he took office and that was made public by her lawyer in the United States, Jason I. Poblete. “I’ve lost my job. I’ve lost everything.”
Her cause has also been taken up by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, a group that lobbies for people kidnapped or unlawfully held abroad. Still, the Biden administration is on record saying that repairing relations with Cuba is not high on its agenda.
As in the best spy stories, big questions remain: How much did she know about the web of espionage that entangled her? Where were her loyalties?
López’s story began like that of many Cuban Americans: Her family fled Fidel Castro’s revolution for the United States in 1966. They built a life in New Jersey, where she grew up and became a pianist and a teacher, following in her mother’s footsteps.
Then, as a young woman in her 20s, she went to a party and met Félix M. Milanés Fajardo, a Cuban diplomat assigned to the United Nations.
“She fell in love, I imagine,” said her mother, Alina Miyares, a retired New York City schoolteacher who lives in Miami Beach.
Although her family is fuzzy on the dates, Cuban government documents say that by the mid-1990s, the couple had gone their separate ways. The diplomat went back to Cuba, and López followed her mother to Miami, where she worked as a bilingual education teacher and pursued a doctorate at Nova Southeastern University. She married and divorced twice, and raised a son from her first marriage.
Years later, she reconnected with her old boyfriend, the Cuban diplomat, and in 2007, without telling her family, she married him. Her son, Peralta, learned of the wedding six months after the fact.
It is unclear what López — by then a special education teacher who specialized in working with homebound children — knew about her husband and when she learned it.
Her family believes that López fell for an old love and was taken in by him.
James Cason, a former top U.S. official in Cuba, said most Cuban diplomats are known to be spies for their government, particularly those posted in the United States.
“She had to know what she was getting into, marrying a Cuban diplomat,” Cason said. “Here in Miami, if you marry a Cuban diplomat, you’re considered a traitor, basically.”
Cuban court documents are unequivocal: Milanés had been a Cuban intelligence agent. And, court records say, he confessed that to her after they married on Christmas Eve 2007.
By that time, Milanés lived in Cuba. He was not allowed to leave the island, so his wife spent the next decade visiting him during long weekends and school breaks. According to Cuban court records, Milanés was an alcoholic who depended on her financially.
In January 2017, López received a cryptic call from her husband, asking her to come to Cuba, her lawyer, Poblete, said.
Milanés had been caught on a boat in Baracoa, on the eastern coast, trying to flee Cuba, according to a person familiar with the case who was not authorized to speak publicly about it. He had called his wife from custody, luring her to the island.
López flew to Havana and was arrested in the airport on her way back.