Published Friday, July 26, 1996, in the Miami Herald.

Castro a drug trafficker?


Accused smugglers say he let coacaine through in exchange for shipload of scarce toiletries. If it weren't for the photos, you could discount the new evidence of Fidel Castro's direct involvement in trafficking drugs from Colombia to Florida via Cuba as the desperate maneuver of defendants trying to save their hides. But the photos give these accusations great credence. They show Castro and Jorge Luis Cabrera, a Keys resident and one of the alleged traffickers arrested in a 5,828-pound cocaine bust in Miami on Jan. 9.

As Herald investigative reporter Jeff Leen revealed yesterday, the traffickers say that Castro let them dock a ship carrying 13,200 pounds of Cali Cartel cocaine at the Port of Havana. In return, the cartel gave the Cuban government the ship's other cargo: soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, and other consumer goods that are very scarce in Cuba.

Cuban fishing boats offloaded the cocaine and took it three miles offshore, Mr. Leen's sources say. There, speedboats took it and raced to fish warehouses in the Florida Keys. It later was transferred to Miami, and more than half of the shipment eluded detection. The 5,828-pound remainder was found when federal agents raided Don Pupo Fine Quality Cigars, a wholesale-tobacco warehouse, in West Dade on Jan. 9.

``It's an outrageous lie'' is how Juan Luis Ponce, first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., predictably described the U.S. evidence. Cuba had the same response in 1993, when federal prosecutors were preparing to -- but never did -- indict Fidel's brother, Raul, and Cuban official Manuel Piñeiro Losada for conspiring to ship tons of cocaine to Florida via Cuba.

If federal investigators consider their evidence strong enough to indict Fidel Castro, they should do so. Whether he's indictable or not, these accusations -- the strongest yet -- should give pause to Canada, Mexico, Spain, and other European investors in Cuba. Do they want to keep supporting and trading with a country whose leaders are accused of spreading death and lawlessness by sowing drug abuse in their own countries?

If they do, let them do so with their eyes shut tight. That way, they won't have to see what Castro has sunk to -- or to look at themselves in the mirror.

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© 1996 The Miami Herald.