Top exile's gun tied to Castro plot
CANF President Francisco Hernandez bought the weapon in 1994, according to FBI records. The second rifle was bought by Miami exile Juan Evelio Pou, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion, FBI records say.
The two .50-caliber rifles, capable of firing a flat-trajectory bullet for nearly one mile, were seized by the U.S. Coast Guard Oct. 27 aboard a Miami-based yacht carrying four Cuban exiles off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico.
The four were charged with failing to report the guns. But a U.S. grand jury in San Juan is still investigating Coast Guard testimony that one of the exiles blurted out that the guns were to be used to kill Castro during a November summit meeting on the Venezuelan island of Margarita.
Although the Havana government has repeatedly accused CANF and its members of financing armed attacks on Cuba, this is the first time a CANF official has been linked to an FBI investigation of an alleged plot against Cuba.
Neither Hernandez, who as salaried CANF president ranks just below the anti-Castro lobby's chairman, nor Pou returned Herald telephone calls. Neither has been charged in the case.
The San Juan grand jury subpoenaed Hernandez to testify before it on Nov. 19, according to one of the defense lawyers in the case. Hernandez appeared before the grand jury, but his testimony is secret.
Also subpoenaed was another Miamian, Jose Antonio Llama , a member of CANF's 28-member Executive Committee, who is listed in State of Florida records as the owner of the yacht seized off Puerto Rico, the 46-foot La Esperanza. Llama's Puerto Rico lawyer, Jose Pagan, said last week that he had advised his client to refuse to testify before the grand jury. Llama's appearance was eventually postponed.
A new grand jury indictment ``with new defendants'' had been expected to be issued last Wednesday, said U.S. court officials in Puerto Rico. But the decision was postponed for unknown reasons.
Justice Department officials traveled to San Juan from Washington last
week to confer with local prosecutors in the case. FBI information
Lopez de la Cruz told FBI agents who interviewed him in Miami that he sold rifle No. 1287 to Hernandez on Sept. 6, 1994; he identified Hernandez as CANF's president, the document showed.
He sold the second gun to Pou on Nov. 22, 1994, through a Coral Gables gun dealer, Raoul Garcia-Cantero, owner of Gables Top Gun Co., because Lopez de la Cruz's federal license to deal in weapons had expired, the document also showed.
Lopez de la Cruz told the FBI he did not know any of the four men arrested aboard La Esperanza but has known Llama since the Bay of Pigs invasion, in which the yacht owner also participated, the FBI reported. Lopez de la Cruz declined to comment Saturday when contacted by The Herald.
Federal court documents on the La Esperanza case obtained by The Herald
in Puerto Rico, and transcripts of preliminary hearings in the U.S.
commonwealth, tell the following story of the alleged plot to kill
Castro: Problems at sea
Problems at sea
Sainz told The Herald that Llama, 66, who exports air-conditioning systems for automobiles, was a friend who had his permission to dock the yacht behind the house for the past year. Several people turned up often to sail or repair the boat, he added, but he never met them or the four people arrested aboard the boat in Puerto Rico.
About 3 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 27, one of the four Cuban exiles aboard La Esperanza radioed the U.S. Coast Guard that the boat was experiencing steering and rudder problems just west of Puerto Real, 11 miles off the western coast of Puerto Rico.
It was the same problem that had forced the yacht, built in 1976, to dock at the Bahamian island of Great Inagua soon after it left Miami and later at Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. But now the boat had also begun taking on water.
When Coast Guardsmen boarded the yacht, its deck was crammed with
suitcases and several bags that the crew had brought up from the rapidly
flooding holds. Some of the men aboard said they were on a fishing trip;
others said they were going to the island of St. Lucia to sell the
yacht. Document copies
In a routine procedure, U.S. Maritime Enforcement agent Aristides Jimenez, working with the U.S. Customs Service, asked if the boat was carrying drugs or weapons. The men said no.
Coast Guardsmen also noticed the yacht had recently been overhauled and had extra fuel tanks installed.
``Why would I invest more money in a boat that I am going to sell?'' one of the U.S. agents who testified at a preliminary hearing said he asked himself.
After about an hour, the Guardsmen ordered the yacht to head south to
the port of Aguadilla on northwestern Puerto Rico. It docked there at 8:21
p.m. Oct. 27. Several more U.S. Customs services officers boarded it soon
afterward to join the investigation. Loose flooring
Under the plank he found a secret compartment containing two Barrett .50-caliber semiautomatic rifles, Model 82A1, plus seven boxes of ammunition with 10 rounds each, six ammunition clips and two tripods.
Made in Murfreesboro, Tenn., by the Barrett Fire Arms Manufacturing Co., the sniper rifle is touted in company advertising as ``the most widely used .50-caliber by military organizations around the world, the U.S. military and law enforcement.''
Its price tag: $6,800, with case and two 10-round magazines.
The four exiles who were arrested and freed on bond a week later are: Hernandez Rojo; Angel Alfonso Aleman, 57; Francisco Cordova, 50; and Juan Bautista Marquez, 61.
In other parts of the yacht, agents found a canvas bag with three sets
of military fatigues, two night vision goggles, three hearing protectors
of the type used at shooting ranges, six portable radios and a satellite
telephone. Detainee becomes
Detainee becomes nervous
When one of the federal agents began reading the four their rights, one of them, Alfonso, administrator of a textile factory in Union City, N.J., apparently became nervous.
``He burst out and started yelling that the weapons were his . . . and that the other members had no knowledge of them,'' U.S. Customs investigator Ismael Padilla testified during the preliminary hearing in Puerto Rico that led to the arrest of the four men on weapons charges.
Alfonso went on to say that he had hidden the weapons aboard the yacht for an attempt to kill Castro at the Ibero-American Summit held Nov. 8-9 on Margarita Island.
Agents told him to calm down and allow them to finish reading him his Miranda rights because he was making incriminating statements, but Alfonso went on talking about the plot to kill Castro and said he had been on Margarita three times.
``I have a contact on St. Lucia. I have a contact on Margarita. But I am not going to say anything more until my lawyer gets here,'' Padilla quoted Alfonso as saying. He was also quoted as saying his only mission in life was to assassinate Castro.
At later hearings, Alfonso denied ever making such statements. His defense lawyer, Ricardo Pesquera, has suggested that the federal agents who testified about Alfonso's comments were lying.
Copyright © 1997 The Miami Herald
Copyright © 1997 The Miami Herald