July 20, 1999

Cuba claims big number of anti-Castro plots

                  HAVANA (Reuters) -- Cuba alleged on Monday that its president, Fidel
                  Castro, has been targeted in 637 assassination plots over 40 years, which it
                  called a world record and blamed entirely on the United States.

                  At least seven of these plots were foiled in the last decade alone, according
                  to court testimony by Cuban officials.

                  Poisoned cigars, an exploding sea-shell and a wet suit coated with a fatal
                  bacteria, as well as copious numbers of more conventional arms, were part
                  of the arsenal of the many would-be assassins, a Cuban intelligence officer

                  "No other political leader in the world has had so many assassination plans
                  hatched against him," Jose Perez Fernandez, a Cuban Interior Ministry
                  colonel, told a court in Havana.

                  Fernandez was testifying in an ongoing civil court case in which Cuba is
                  claiming $181 billion in damages from the U.S. government for alleged
                  deaths and injuries to its citizens from 40 years of hostile U.S. policy toward
                  the communist-ruled Caribbean island.

                  Washington has ignored the claim, and no U.S. government representative is
                  attending the hearing, which began July 5.

                  "The assassination of the Commander in Chief (Fidel Castro) became a
                  sickly obsession following the triumph of the (1959 Cuban) Revolution," said
                  Perez, who reeled off dozens of alleged deaths plots against Castro between
                  1959 and 1998.

                  Responsibility for these assassination plans lies with the U.S. government, its
                  agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and "terrorist
                  organisations" created, financed or tolerated by Washington, he said.

                  "These plans were attempted and organised during every single one of the ...
                  nine U.S. administrations that have ruled during these 40 years," the Cuban
                  officer said. This constituted a U.S. policy of "state terrorism," he added.

                  "Terrorist organisations" is a reference to anti-Castro Cuban exile groups,
                  such as the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation (CANF),
                  which Perez accused of involvement in several death plots against the Cuban
                  leader this decade.

                  CANF leaders were involved in foiled plans to kill Castro at an
                  Ibero-American summit in Cartagena, Colombia, in 1994; at another
                  Ibero-American summit in Argentina in 1995; and at a similar meeting in
                  Venezuela, in 1997, he said.

                  The most recent abortive plot occurred in late 1998 and targeted the Cuban
                  leader when he attended a summit of Ibero-American leaders in Oporto,
                  Portugal, he said. Two Cuban-born brothers and former political prisoners,
                  Manuel and Jesus Guerra, hatched this plan, Fernandez alleged.

                  Perez' testimony drew on declassified U.S. government intelligence
                  documents, especially a report on CIA-planned assassinations of foreign
                  political leaders made to a U.S. Senate Select Committee in 1975.

                  One of the more outlandish methods considered by the CIA for killing
                  Castro in the 1960s was to place explosives in a sea shell on the sea bed in
                  an area where the Cuban leader, a keen scuba diver, might be swimming.
                  Another related suggestion was to coat his wet suit with a killer bacteria.

                  One plot, hatched during a visit to Chile in 1972, involved a gun hidden in a
                  video camera.