Exiles deny Castro's allegation of deadly plot
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
A Miami-based group of Cuban exiles on Wednesday denied Cuban
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
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
``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
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
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
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
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
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
allegation deserves ``complete credibility'' and said the government is gathering
more information ``to give this issue very serious and very responsible
MIAMI EXILES SURPRISED
Miami exiles close to Monzon and Posada said they were surprised
allegations because they had not heard even rumors of any possible attacks
``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
Castro also said Peñalver is a member of CANF and noted
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.