Militant exile tells of plot to kill Castro
Group's plan detailed at Cuban spy trial
BY GAIL EPSTEIN NIEVES
Assassination plots against Fidel Castro moved from the realm
of Cold War-era remembrances into the reality of the Cuban spy trial Tuesday,
when the leader of a
Miami-based militant exile group testified about his 1994 plan to kill Cuba's leader.
Rodolfo Frómeta, 54, commander of Commandos F-4, served three years in federal prison for trying to buy U.S. armaments meant to kill Castro.
On the witness stand, true to his cause, Frómeta described
how he had planned to "make Fidel Castro disappear'' with the weapons,
and how a Cuban-based
"clandestine cell'' of Commandos F-4 now uses different techniques -- including setting Cuban buses or vans on fire -- to "attract the attention of the people and bring about change.''
Frómeta steadfastly maintained that killing Castro would
not have been murder, but rather "an attempt to do justice about a person
who has killed thousands and
thousands of persons.''
Frómeta said those victims included his son, father and brother, as well as the 41 people who perished on the tugboat 13 de Marzo, the four Brothers to Rescue fliers, the mother of Elián González and many others who have perished in the Florida Straits.
Frómeta left Alpha 66, a paramilitary group of Cuban exiles, to help form the more aggressive Commandos F-4 in 1994. That same year, Frómeta and F-4 co-founder Fausto Marimon were arrested after asking an FBI agent who posed as a U.S. Army supply sergeant to sell them $15,000 worth of explosives and heavy armaments.
The men were found guilty of conspiracy to export heavy weapons and explosives without a license. Frómeta received a 41-month sentence.
INTENT TO KILL
During questioning by defense attorney Joaquín Méndez, Frómeta denied the materials were to be used to down a commercial airplane over a tourist site or to blow up bridges. The group's intent always was to kill Castro, Frómeta said, and ``four or five'' of his top aides, including brother Raul Castro, as they visited military installations.
"So it was your plan to kill not only Fidel Castro but the people around him?'' Méndez asked.
"The people who go there [to the installations] are in fact responsible for the deaths of thousands of Cubans, and if they died, it really wouldn't matter,'' Frómeta said.
"And whether you violated the laws of this country that allowed you to become a citizen was besides the point?'' Méndez asked.
"Well, in this case it would not matter,'' Frómeta said.
Frómeta had been stopped twice before his arrest.
Law officers stopped him and other Alpha 66 members in October 1993 near Marathon Key and found them in possession of a high-caliber semiautomatic rifle and seven Chinese assault rifles. They were not arrested and their weapons were not seized, he said.
It happened again in February 1994, when U.S. Customs stopped Frómeta and six other Alpha 66 members in a boat near Key Biscayne. They had shotguns, assault rifles and pistols, all of which were seized.
For the second day, Méndez hammered away at the same theme: that militant exiles who were repeatedly stopped by law officers during the last decade in weapon-laden boats or vehicles heading south were rarely arrested or convicted.
That's why the accused spies were here, the defense says: not
to snoop around U.S. military bases or to harm U.S. interests, but to infiltrate
exile groups and defend
Cuba against violent exile plots.
Five defendants are being tried on charges of trying to infiltrate
U.S. military installations and Cuban exile groups. Lead defendant Gerardo
Hernández is accused of
conspiring with the Cuban government to bring about the shoot-down of Brothers to the Rescue fliers in 1996.
Cuba has complained for several years that U.S. authorities ignored
information it made available about who allegedly was financing and plotting
violence. A Cuban
spokesman is expected to testify soon about those U.S.-Cuban contacts.
Confronted with the Commandos F-4 website, which claims credit
for burning a van and a bus in Cuba in December 2000, Frómeta said
no people were inside the
The web page, www.nocastro.com/courtesy/comandosf4, says the group's "clandestine cell'' in Cuba blew up the van outside a compact-disc manufacturing plant.
Frómeta said Cuba props up its failing economy with tourist
dollars generated by those and other ventures. Such success threatens the
safety of the United States, he
"Do you or do you not support the burning of buses in Cuba?'' Méndez asked.
"Whatever they do in Cuba, I am not the appropriate person to pass judgment,'' Frómeta said.
The group's U.S. branch of Commandos endorses peace, he said, and since 1994, members have been required to sign a bylaw promising adherence to U.S. laws.
Asked how the group could legally get weapons into Cuba without violating U.S. laws, Frómeta avoided answering.
"You're talking here about a military secret that should not be spoken about here,'' he said, adding that he would respect "U.S. territory.''