updated 1/9/2006 6:33:56 PM ET 2006-01-09T23:33:56

A Florida college professor and his wife, a university administrator, were accused in federal court Monday of using their academic positions for decades as cover to spy on Americans for Cuba’s communist government.

Carlos Alvarez, 61, a psychology professor at Florida International University, and Elsa Alvarez, 55, used an encryption system to communicate with their handlers via short-wave radio and carried messages to and from Cuba, said federal prosecutor Brian Frazier.

“These were highly placed and very well-regarded operatives in the United States,” Frazier said.

The couple were charged with acting as agents of Fidel Castro without registering with the U.S. government.

Frazier said Alvarez had spied for Cuba since 1977 and his wife since 1982. Neither was charged with the more serious offense of espionage, and FBI agents said there was no evidence they provided classified or military information to Cuba.

Much of what they provided involved information about the U.S. political situation, prominent Cuban-Americans in South Florida and the names of at least one FBI agent, Frazier said.

The couple were ordered held without bail Monday after prosecutors warned that they might leave their five children and flee to Cuba if released.

Neither defendant entered a plea, and another hearing was set for Jan. 19.

Told FBI of their contacts with Cuba
They were arrested Friday, months after giving statements to the FBI last summer about their contacts with Cuba, prosecutors said.

Alvarez is identified on the Florida International Web site as an associate professor in the educational leadership and policy studies department. Elsa Alvarez is described as a coordinator in the social work training program, specializing in psychological treatment, crisis intervention and group psychotherapy.

The indictment marks the latest turn in the cloak-and-dagger underworld of espionage between the United States and Cuba, much of it taking place in South Florida, where thousands of Cuban exiles live.

In August, the convictions and sentences of five alleged Cuban spies were thrown out by a federal appeals court, which said the five were unfairly tried because of intense publicity, community prejudice and inflammatory remarks by prosecutors.

The defendants insisted they were spying on Cuban exiles opposed to Castro, not on the United States itself.

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