GUNNING FOR CASTRO
[Published in The Nation, December 15, 1997]
Only a few weeks before the November 23, 1997, death of Jorge Mas Canosa--founder and longtime head of the hard-line Cuban American National Foundation (CANF)--a U.S. Coast Guard patrol sighted a boat adrift in waters off the west coast of Puerto Rico. Although the boat had mechanical problems and was taking on water, the four Cuban Americans aboard insisted on continuing their voyage. The Coast Guard ordered them to a police dock in Aguadilla, where U.S. Customs agents, suspicious of their conflicting stories, searched the 46-foot vessel. They discovered two .50-caliber long-range military sniper rifles, along with 70 rounds of ammunition, night scopes, three fatigue uniforms, and communications equipment. One of the men claimed that their purpose was to kill Fidel Castro when he landed on Venezuela's Margarita Island for the Ibero-American Summit on November 7.
Customs found the boat was registered to Nautical Sports, a Florida company of which CANF director José Antonio Llama is president, director, secretary and treasurer. Llama flew to Puerto Rico the day after the boat was seized, although he claimed that he had just sold the boat. Llama belongs to Brigade 2506, an organization of veterans of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. In 1996 he co-founded a Madrid-based organization of Cuban exiles to lobby the Spanish government to support the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, successor to the 1992 Torricelli Act--both created by CANF to tighten the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
Llama's boat, La Esperanza, had been docked at the home of his friend Marco Antonio Sainz until just before it left Florida. Sainz and Feliciano Foyo, CANF treasurer, are partners in the Florida Falcon Chemical Corp. Cuban exile terrorist Luis Posada Carriles has listed Foyo as one of his CANF supporters (along with Mas Canosa and Pepe Hernández, CANF president). Sainz claims he didn't know the people who came to "repair" La Esperanza (Customs found a false bottom) and then sailed it away.
The four men on the boat, all of whom were arrested for illegal possession of weapons, had intriguing ties. A Cuban security agent who infiltrated the exile terrorist group Alpha 66 alleged that one of them, Angel Hernández Rojo, was a "top CIA agent" in charge of Cuban exile activities in Miami in 1970. Juan Bautista Márquez was identified by the same agent as captain of a CIA ship (the Superfreezer) used to ferry infiltration teams from Florida to Cuba. Angel Manuel Alfonso Alemán, longtime activist in the right-wing exile movement, headed the Association of Cuban Former Political Prisoners in Union City, New Jersey. Francisco Secundino Córdova, from Florida, has also been involved with Alpha 66, according to sources in the exile community.
Despite prosecution arguments that these men are dangerous and present a risk of flight, a U.S. magistrate released them on bail on November 10. Although the investigation is continuing, no charge about the assassination plot has yet been filed.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Puerto Rico seems eager to explore the La Esperanza case. But it remains to be seen whether the Administration will dare to follow a trail that may lead to some of the Miami millionaires who came up with $275,000 for Bill Clinton's needy presidential campaign in April 1992 on the day he endorsed the CANF-backed Torricelli Act. Clinton, meanwhile, hailed Mas Canosa as a man who "galvanized his community, his adopted country and people around the world for the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba."
Historian Jane Franklin is the author of Cuba and the U.S. Empire: A Chronological History.
E-mail Jane Franklin: JaneFranklin@hotmail.com.