The Miami Herald
December 2, 1999

Exiles deny Castro's allegation of deadly plot


 A Miami-based group of Cuban exiles on Wednesday denied Cuban President
 Fidel Castro's charge that they plotted to kill his friend and ally, Venezuelan
 President Hugo Chavez, saying that he wants to paint all critics as terrorists.

 Castro made his unusually detailed charges -- naming the alleged plotters and
 giving their group's Miami address and telephone number -- during a news
 conference Tuesday with Venezuelan journalists in Havana.

 Reading from what he said was a Cuban intelligence report, Castro said the exiles
 met Nov. 18 in Miami and decided to send a ``terrorist commando to Venezuela
 to kill Chavez later this month.

 Chavez, a left-of-center populist elected last year, was targeted because he and
 Castro have become increasingly close friends and political allies, the Cuban
 president added.

 ``This is a lie, a ruse, a vile falsehood, said Eusebio Peñalver, 64, one of the six
 exiles named by Castro. ``He's after us because our work on behalf of human
 rights in Cuba is giving him a headache.

 His group's only link to Venezuela, Peñalver said, was a recent campaign to
 persuade 40 members of the Venezuelan Congress to sign a document urging
 Castro to release political prisoners and embrace democracy.

 Castro said four of the exiles -- Peñalver, Ernesto Diaz, Mario Chanes de Armas
 and Rene Cruz -- are members of the World Federation of Former Cuban Political
 Prisoners. Peñalver said he and Cruz are members, but not the others.

 But the address and telephone that Castro gave was for Plantados Until Liberation
 and Democracy in Cuba, a Peñalver-led group of former political prisoners known
 as plantados (immovable ones) for their refusal to enter prison ``reeducation
 programs in exchange for early release.

 Peñalver served 28 years in Castro's prisons. Diaz, now a children's book author
 living in Connecticut, served 22 years and Chanes served 30 years, the longest
 term served by any Cuban political prisoner.

 Castro also identified Peñalver as ``the leader of the United Liberation
 Commandos and Diaz as a member of the Alpha 66 group. Both dropped out of
 those groups long ago, Peñalver said.

 Cruz, a member of the Liberation Commandos, was arrested in Los Angeles in
 1995 on charges of possessing two truckloads of weapons and planning a raid on
 Cuba by boat. The charges were later dropped.

 Castro also said Peñalver had unspecified ``links to Arnaldo Monzon, a wealthy
 New Jersey exile and member of the board of directors of the Cuban American
 National Foundation (CANF), and Luis Posada Carriles. Peñalver said he never
 met either man.


 Posada has admitted arranging a dozen bombings of Havana tourist spots in
 1997, including one in which an Italian man was killed. Posada was tried and
 acquitted in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people.

 He served in Venezuela's political police from the mid-1960s to 1976 as a
 counterkidnapping and subversion expert. Posada now lives in El Salvador under
 a false name.

 Cuban security officials have previously alleged that Monzon was the main
 financier behind several anti-Castro plots, from the bombing of Havana tourist
 sites to a 1996 attempt to bomb the Cuban capital with remote-controlled
 ultralight aircraft. Monzon and Posada could not be reached for comment.

 A Monzon employee, Angel Alfonso, and four other exiles are now on trial in
 Puerto Rico on charges of conspiring to assassinate Castro when he visited the
 Venezuelan island of Margarita in 1997. Alfonso confessed, but his statements
 have not been allowed as evidence in the trial.

 Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel said Wednesday that Castro's
 allegation deserves ``complete credibility'' and said the government is gathering
 more information ``to give this issue very serious and very responsible


 Miami exiles close to Monzon and Posada said they were surprised by Castro's
 allegations because they had not heard even rumors of any possible attacks
 against Chavez.

 ``If Chavez turns out to be a communist, let the Venezuelans deal with that,'' said
 one exile veteran of several anti-Castro plots. ``We're focusing on Castro.

 Castro told the Venezuelan journalists that he had sent the information on the plot
 to ``our northern neighbor, presumably the U.S. government.

 But he also said the Cuban intelligence report on the plot had reached him ``only
 in the last 72 hours, and that he had not yet had time to relay it to Chavez.

 ``In these dangerous cases it is always important not to lose a minute, Castro
 said during the five-hour news conference. ``Chavez is learning about this along
 with you.

 Castro also said Peñalver is a member of CANF and noted Monzon's CANF
 membership as a way of indirectly linking the anti-Castro lobby to the alleged
 plot. Peñalver said he was never a CANF member.

 A CANF statement Wednesday said Castro was acting ``deliriously and added:

 ``What Cuba and the rest of our hemisphere need right now are not more five-hour
 speeches and threats by Fidel Castro, but a psychiatrist to strap him down in a
 straitjacket once and for all.