In a Miami courtroom last February a handful of obscure boat captains and crewmen were convicted of conspiring to smuggle drug into the United States, Nobody paid much attention.
But a special presence pervaded the trial - a sensation, unofficial defendant far more important than the common smugglers who got convicted: The government of Cuba.
Three witnesses kept saying that the smugglers had plenty of help from senior Cuban government officials eager to flood the United States with drugs.
But the trial of the boatmen did not make clear whether the U.S. had evidence stronger than the word of these three witnesses, all of them captured smugglers, that Cuba was trading in dope. Indicated Cuban officials, including the ambassador to Colombia and the commander of the Cuban navy, did not show up for trial.
What follows here is the first comprehensive inside look at the evidence, much of which has never been made public - evidence that high-ranking Cuban military and government officials help plan smuggling routes into Florida, dispatch the Cuban navy to escort convoys of Colombian drug ships along the north coast of Cuba, and offer to let smugglers' planes refuel in Cuba to enable them to outdistance the U.S. surveillance shield.
What follows here was pieced together from a variety of sources, secret intelligence reports and a rare interview with a key witness now being hidden by the U.S. government.
It is The Case Against Cuba.
Johnny Crump, a tall Colombian lawyer whose grandfather had left Macon, Ga., to build a business in South America, had discovered in the mid-'70s that he could make a mot more money smuggling drugs to Miami than he could ever earn legally in Barranguilla.
When he finally got caught, in Miami, American drug agents had been watching him for a long time. They knew he had tried smuggling through Cuba. He made them a deal. He would tell them all he knew about Cuba's drug trade in return for his freedom and a new identity in the U.S.
Johnny Crump became a key witness for the United States.
The government gave him a new name and set him up in a new city, somewhere in the U.S., under the Federal Witness Protection Program. His name and his whereabouts and even his current physical appearance are secret. Authorities fear that Communist agents and vengeful drug dealers would like to get their hands on him.
Yet now Johnny Crump, hidden away, decided to talk to The Herald.
He had never talked to a newspaper before, but now he was desperate. Used to high living and now low on cash, he was trying to sell a book about drugs and Cuba, but publishers weren't interested - his story seemed so outlandish. And now he wanted publicity, a way of validating his story.
The interview, arranged through the U.S. Marshal's office in Washington, took place at a motel near an airport outside of Florida. The Herald paid the expenses for Crump, a business associate and a marshal.
Crump arrived looking haggard and anxious.
He is afraid of flying - afraid of being hijacked to Cuba - and he had downed a half pint of cheap bourbon before boarding his flight.
"I'd like a pot of coffee, please," he said.
They knew. They had plenty of other witnesses, scattered all over the world, who had participated in the events Crump spoke of, and had confirmed all of the essential elements of his tale.
A Colombian drug smuggler talked to the CIA in his Mexican jail cell; another smuggler talked to Colombian army interrogators in a Bogota jail; another jailed conspirator told of the same story to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; another witness talked to a grand jury.
All in all, the government had at least seven separate witnesses who told their stories to agents in three countries. They corroborated Crump. And it turned out that the Coast Guad had actually seen and recorded some of the events the smugglers later confessed to.
And the U.S. has reports that go far beyond Johnny Crump. A State Department official says flatly: "We're certain in this case that the Cuban government helped smuggle drugs to the United States, and we believe this is not an isolated case."
The Castro government adamantly denies any connection with drug trafficking. But a secret DEA intelligence analysis obtained by Tropic strongly suggest the recent case is part of a longstanding pattern. That summary, which has never been made public, recounts 23 years of reports indicating Cuba's involvement in drugs. And, says a reliable official source, there is yet another set of witnesses who can implicate Cuban officials.
In the mid-'70s, Johnny Crump was a young Colombian lawyer working in his father's successful family businesses, raising cattle and selling cars. He was a distinguished 6 feet 2 inches, especially tall for a Colombian, and he lived the easy life of affluence: a wife, three children, a good home with servants in Barraquilla.
When Cuba's new ambassador to Colombia visited Barraguilla in 1975, Johnny Crump was asked by a politician-friend to be his guide.
Ambassador Fernando Ravelo Reneda had fought in the Sierra with Fidel Castro. He was a dedicated Marxist-Leninist, but he was affable, quick with a joke, avoiding politics unless asked.
Crump: "I showed him the city and everything. We were beginning to be friends.... I was like everybody in those years, curious to know that the Cubans were like." There was a vestige of anti-yanqui feeling here, like in most Latin Americas. Cuba, to Crump, was "like David fighting against Goliath."
Then, Crump's life dramatically changed. His wife died suddenly of a brain embolism. And within a year, Crump was frequenting nightclubs and bars, where he saw the nouveau riche, the marijuana smugglers, driving Mercedes, glittering with gold jewelry and $2,000 watches, buying Chivas Regal and Dom Perignon, surrounded by dazzling women. These were the products of what Crump call "the marijuana bonanza." To him, it was like the Alaskan gold rush, except that the northern hills of his country were filled with what norteamericanos called "Colombian gold." And there was virtually no danger, because police and army officials were so easily bribed.
Most of the early smugglers were struggling up from the lower classes, anxious to gain acceptance from the aristocrats. One evening, a group offered the polished Crump a deal: If he gave them $5,000, he would make $50,000. "They did that for me as a favor.... They wanted to get close to me."
He obliged. A month later, he was handed the money. He made a profit of 1,000 percent.
Crump: "The first time you spend $5,000 to make $50,000, that blow up every moral you have."
"In Colombia, you never realize how many people you are hurting with drugs."
He says that he and the people he knew, even the biggest smugglers, never used drugs themselves. Even now, years later, Crump has smoked a total of a handful of joints (just to see what his "merchandise" was like) and has never tried Quaaludes of cocaine. Smugglers might consume whole bottles of whisky during an evening - that was considered macho - but not marijuana. "It was pride not to use the drug. You deal, but never use. It was something against machismo. Marijuana was used by long-haired boy in the United States, hippies, and dealers believed all hippies were homosexual, because of their long hair. Marijuana was not for strong men."
He remarried in 1976, a 17-year-old girl named Gloria. Two years later, worried that his new wife and children were being too influenced by his "business," he moved the family to Bogota, to a sprawling mansion, surrounded by an iron fence. Maids handled all the household chores, and he had four bodyguards, armed with submachine guns.
It was in Bogota that Johnny Crump became very close to Cuban Ambassador Fernando Ravelo.
In Bogota, there were only two ambassadors who were status symbols, whom every host wanted to get to his party: the U.S. ambassador and the Cuban. Ravelo always showed up for Crump's parties.
"Many times, friends asked me. 'How come Ravelo is so close to you? It's not normal.... Is he looking for something from you?' And I'd say, 'No, no.'"
Not once did Crump mention drug smuggling to Ravelo, but the ambassador must have known: "The kind of people with me all the time, the bodyguards, the guns, the nice cars, the house - everything that showed him I was in the business."
As their friendship grew, the ambassador began bringing along his second-in-command, Gonzalo Bassols, who was as quiet and suspicious as Ravelo seemed open and trusting.
Crump: "It was like he was taking notes about everything that happened around him.... He would have one drink and stop, while Ravelo was dancing and drinking all night long."
Crump didn't know it at the time, but U.S. documents list both the ambassador and his number two man being agents of the Department of the Americas, the Cuban bureau assigned to fomenting revolutions in Latin America.
"He was - how you say? - audacious. He not only send marijuana from Colombia, he have a wife in Miami, a home in Miami, and he send his own boat in Miami and sell the marijuana here in Miami."
Crump had a car waiting for him at the airport. Guillot Lara invited him to his hotel suite at the Hilton for a drink. Once there, Crump, perhaps to impress this big-time smuggler called the Cuban Embassy and asked Ravelo and Bassols to drop by.
They did. Over drinks, the subject of marijuana somehow entered the conversation. Guillot Lara picked up on it. "Jamie said, 'Why don't we use your island like an aircraft carrier, to fill the gringos with drugs.' But it was just like a joke.... Ravelo joked back, 'We can talk more about that,' or 'Let me know,' something like that."
The subject was dropped.
In the last part of 1979, he suffered some disastrous reverses. In dizzying succession, he lost three boatloads of marijuana - the U.S. Coast Guard seized two, and another crew dropped the "merchandise" overboard because they feared a Coast Guard cutter was approaching. The cost was $30000 to $400000 a boat. Then an airplane of his was stolen from a Colombian airfield. And, last, a lavish Spanish restaurant he had opened in Bogota - complete with flamenco dancers - proved to be a horrible money-loser.
One evening, when Crump and ambassador Ravelo were alone in Crump's living room, Crump began complaining about his money woes and the restaurant.
For five years, they had known each other as "friends." Ravelo had not once asked for any favors. But now he said to Crump, "You don't have to be in that kind of business."
He meant the restaurant.
He said he was dealing with some Chileans who needed help. They were seeking American weapons, not traceable back to Cuba, to use in the fight to overthrow Augusto Pinochet. Normal black-market channels were asking outrageous prices; perhaps Crump could buy them cheaper and still make a healthy profit.
To Crump, Pinochet was just another dictator. And he told Ravelo he'd be happy to help.
Crump, however, in retrospect sees that conversation about guns being "like a test." And Ravelo had decided that he passed.
"From that moment, they become more open to me, in all ways."
Crump told them about his marijuana business and the problems he had been having; Ravelo began suggesting alternatives.
"He begin to talk to me more openly about everything. For example, he explained to me that they have some people in Bolivia, a general, that can make some business with cocaine."
Crump told the ambassador that he had been approached by the family of an American imprisoned in Cuba, accused of smuggling drugs. The family had been contacting various sources, offering to pay for his release, but had gotten nowhere until someone had told him that Crump was close to the Cuban ambassador. The family was willing to pay up to $250,000 to get him and his co-pilot released.
Ravelo said he would check with Havana. The next day, he showed Crump a telex listing Colombians and Americans held in Cuban jails, and a number of boats including a Colombian vessel named the Bravo. The ambassador suggested that for the proper amount of money, any of the prisoners or boats could be released.
Crump talked to Guillot Lara, to see if he knew who owned the boat. Guillot Lara was more interested in Crump's Cuban connection.
"Jamie said to me, 'These people are completely frank with you. Why don't we go back with the first offer I gave them?'"
Crump talked to Ravelo. He first suggested landing a marijuana-laden plane in Cuba for refueling and then, because of the vigilance around Florida, flying the plane to some U.S. state farther north.
Ravelo said he would have to check with Havana. Within a day or two, he came back with a message: Crump could use the Camaguey airport to refuel, and the only cost would be the price of the gasoline.
Ravelo told him that all he had to do was give the embassy the identification number of the plane a week ahead.
Crump: "We even went so far that we agree that the pilot have to say that he had an emergency, and they say he was going to land in Camaguey."
Crump was excited about the prospect, but not for long. "For about 15 days, I was trying to convince American pilots to do that. They said, 'Forget it. I'm not going to land in Cuba with a plane full of marijuana.'"
Crump couldn't find a willing pilot. "Then Jamie called me. He said, 'When can we send the first boat?'"
Guillot Lara was desperate. The DEA had been picking off his boats one after another - six in a row. One source says the DEA had an informant inside his organization. (But, says the source, the DEA did not know that boats would move through Cuba; the DEA first confirmed the Cuban connection in November 1981.)
They met in the apartment of the Cuban Embassy's number two man, Gonzalo Bassols. It was a penthouse with a private elevator, with a security guard at the lobby door. Crump and Jamie Guillot Lara were there, along with Bassols and Ambassador Ravelo. Another person was present, a Colombian, who later confirmed the details of this meeting to the Colombian army and, apparently, the CIA.
"At this meeting," says Crump, "we agreed on everything."
What the Colombians wanted was a hiding place - a safe harbor - close to Florida. There, the mother ships could hide until it appeared safe, then transfer their cargo to yachts and then to speedboats for a quick crossing to the United States.
Guillot Lara suggested the boats anchor near Sagua la Grande, on Cuba's north coast. They would arrive flying the Panamanian flag.
But they also needed some kind of code.
Crump had asked Ravelo to be the godfather to his child due to be born in August. The Crumps had already picked out a name if it were a girl - Viviana.
Each boat would bear the code name Viviana on the stern. That would identify it to the Cuban navy, so that torpedo boats could offer any help necessary to the smugglers.
Guillot Lara asked how the Cubans would charge. The ambassador said they would charge nothing. Guillot Lara didn't accept that. He said he wanted "to make this business clear." If the Cubans earned something from this venture, they would be more willing to help in the future. The Cubans asked how much he thought he would make. Guillot Lara - never a modest man - said together they could make "millions and millions."
After some discussion, they agreed that the Colombians would pay $500,000 to $700,000 per boat, depending on the size of the cargo and the type of drug being transported.
Crump's passport, which was later seized by federal authorities, shows that he arrived in Panama on Aug. 14, 1980, and left Panama the same day.
Crump says that when he arrived in Havana, Cuban officials met him at the plane, and put his luggage in a waiting car, without going through Customs. The Cubans made a big, conspiratorial deal of not stamping his passport, as if his trip was to be a secret; it is a technique they have used with many visitors.
For almost two weeks, Crump stayed in Havana. With a government chauffeur, he went to bars and nightspots, like the Bogedita del Medio and the Tropicana, and to the Museum of the Revolution.
Ambassadot Ravelo took him to see a clone associate of Fidel Castro: Rene Rodriguez-Cruz, head of ICAP, which translated into English as the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, and is believed by the CIA to be an espionage front. The two had met in Bogota, where Rodriguez-Cruz had asked for Crump's help in smuggling coffee out of Colombia. They never, says Crump, discussed drugs, and in Havana, Rodriguez-Cruz merely tried to lure Crump into sending his son to a Cuban school.
Mostly, Crump just waited for the "Viviana." It didn't come. There was no radio contact.
Ambassador Ravelo told him not to worry. The Cuban navy was alerted to find the Viviana and protect it.
"Finally, I flew back to Panama, because I knew nothing about the boat, if they made it of not made it."
Crump arrived in Panama on Aug. 27, having been nowhere - according to his passport - for the past two weeks.
Perez, a Cuban-American in his mid-20s, says he met Jamie Guillot Lara in the summer of 1981 at a Ramada Inn in South Dade and planned to smuggle a cargo of millions of Quaaludes through Cuba.
Perez: "Jamie explained to me that we could use Cuba as a point to stop, and I told him.... it is a Communist country and most of the people [who] work with me are Cubans, and it is going to be kind of hard for them to go into Cuba....He said think about it, and he told me...all the money we could make...millions of dollars."
Perez decided the money was worth it.
The plan was to send large boats - yachts and cabin cruisers - from Miami to a small sandpit just outside Cuban waters where the drugs could be safely offloaded from the mother ship. The boats would then move the drugs to another small island between Bimini and Andros, where the cargos would be transferred to speedboats for the fast last lap into South Florida.
So the first mother ship was dispatched from Colombia to the borth coast of Cuba. And the first yacht left Miami to meet it. And a second boat headed for Riding Rocks, the speedboat rendezvous off Bimini.
And the comedy began.
First, the mother ship disappeared, and Crump gave up waiting and left Cuba. Then the big wooden yacht from Miami, the Ricky IV, disappeared on its way to meet the mother ship, and the third boat - waiting off Bimini with David Perez aboard - gave up and returned to port.
In Bimini, Perez says he had called Guillot Lara in Colombia and was told "our friends" had the mother ship, and it would be at the Guinchos Cay rendezvous within two days.
To Perez, "our friend" meant the Cubans.
The missing yacht was found, too - but not by the Cubans. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Cape Gull discovered the Ricky IV smashed on the rocks at Guinchos Cay. The crew said they had become lost on a fishing trip. The cutter evacuated the men back to Miami.
At the trial, both David Perez and Mario Estrevez testified that the Lazy Lady developed engine trouble and finally dropped anchor at Paredon Grande, a Cuban key just off the island's north coast, under escort from two Cuban gunboats.
As they entered Cuban waters, Perez said to his crew: "Look, we can go into Cuba, and we would not have any problems."
At Paredon Grande, the Cuban gunboat commanded reassured the smugglers: "They said, 'Somebody will be here to talk to you guys and see if you can fix your boat.'"
A cargo boat, says Perez, was nearby. The name on the stern was Viviana.
A launch approached and took Perez and Mario Estevez to yet another boat nearby.
David Perez and Mario Estevez stated in court that Aldo Santamaria, head of the Cuban navy, and Rene Rodriguez-Cruz, head of ICAP, both were on that boat. Both have been friends of Fidel Castro since at least the mid-1950s.
Mario Esteves said one of them told him: "Finally, you are going to have a pharmacy in Miami."
Perez says he chatted with Rodriguez-Cruz: "He made a statement saying that he was happy that we were bringing so many drugs into this country."
The Cubans put a mechanic aboard the Lazy Lady to repair the engine, and when he was finished, both the Viviana and the Lazy Lady headed north. Near the southern tip of Andros Island, over 400 boxes of Quaaludes were loaded onto the Lazy Lady; anout eight million pills, with a wholesale value of at least $5,6 million.
While on the Vivians, says Perez, they talked with Jamie Guillot Lara by radio, and Guillot Lara said another ship, filled with marijuana, was being readied.
Perez wnet back to Miami, to arrange for speedboats. Mario Estevez took the Lazy Lady to Riding Rocks near Bimini, to await the pickup. It waited there for a week or more, loaded with Quaaludes.
Finally, a helicopter of the U.S. Coast Guard approached their boat - "taking a lot of pictures," Estevez said. They told the pilot, Lt. Cdr. Pen Shade, that they were having a little engine trouble but needed no help. In his report, Shade noted that the vessel appeared to have no recreation gear or fishing gear aboard.
Estevez says that he and the other crewmen were frightened that a Coast Guard cutter would approach at any minute. They dumped the boxes overboard, $5.6 million in pills disappeared into the sea.
In Bogota, Johnny Crump received a call from Ambassador Ravelo. He said that the Cuban navy had just intercepted a boat loaded with marijuana, with the name "Beviana" on the stern. Was that a coincidence, or a misspelling of "Viviana'"? The ship had been towed into Havana harbor.
Crump said he knew nothing about a second boast. He called Guillot Lara, who said, yes, the boat was part of the plan but someone had erred in the spelling.
Crump passed the information on to the ambassador, and several days later was told that the Cuban navy had escorted the boat to Paredon Grande.
David Perez says that he provided bail and lawyers' fees for the two men.
In December 1980, Guillot Lara sneaked into Miami by speedboat, and said the Cubans were pressuring him for payment for both the Quaaludes and the marijuana.
David Perez: "Guillot... told me that we had to make it up to the Cuban government, and I told him... I just not pay no money for something I never received money."
They chatted for a half hour at the airport. An army sergeant that Crump knew was hanging around. When the sergeant wasn't looking, Dr. Galvan slipped him a cigaret. "Here, keep it," he said. Then the man departed on another flight.
The cigaret contained a microfilm listing requirements for 300 combatants: 300 rifles, 100 9mm automatic pistols, 100 machine guns, 50 personal bazookas and so on.
Latin American countries have distinctive accents, though persons from the south of Colombia have a neutral accent, and it is possible that Crump didn't realize the man was a Colombian, though it is not likely. This is a touchy point with Crump: The Colombian army happily looks the other way about drugs, but is severe with anyone dealing with the M-19. If Crump ever wishes to return to Colombia, it is important that he not connect himself with these guerrillas.
Whatever Crump thought, he checked with people who had access to black-market weapons. The he met Dr. Galvan and said the weapons would cost between $800,000 and $1 million.
Dr. Galvan said he didn't have the money. He suggested Crump talk to Ambassador Ravelo, to see what the ambassador could do to arrange financing.
That Christmas, 1980, Crump invited Ambassador Ravelo and his wife to his home in Cartagena. The Cuban pressured Crump. "He told me, 'Listen we have already helped you with these two boats." And I explained to him, that is Jamie's problem. Then we called Jamie [Guillot Lara] in Barranquilla. He drove to Cartagena. Jamie said he was trying to get the money, and.... Ravelo said they had people in the United States that could collect that money."
To pay off the Cubans, Crump and Guillot Lara worked out another marijuana deal, involving several boats, with payloads totaling maybe $5 million. Curmp went to Miami, to make ceratin there were no slipups.
But in Kendall, at a friend's home, something happened that was to change everything. Crump says he met a Colombian friend who wanted to sell nine kilos of cocaine to an American. But the Colombian spoke no English, and so he went along as an interpreter, Crump says, thought he had no financial interest in the deal: He was worried about making millions off marijuana, not a few thousand off cocaine.
The deal was a bust: DEA agents had an informant linked with the American buyer. According to confidential DEA reports, Crump told an undercover agent that he could obtain large amounts of cocaine at a good price.
In February 1981, as the cocaine was being exchanged at the Westland Mall, Crump and several others were suddenly surrounded by a dozen DEA agents.
For the next 11 months, he stayed in the United States. "I don't know why I didn't go back."
One reason was a dramatic event in Colombia that happened several days after his arrest: The army captured dozens of M-19 guerrillas. Some of the guerrillas talked; they said they had been trained in Cuba. Colombia severed diplomatic relations, and Ambassador Ravelo returned to Havana with the rest of the staff.
Over the next several months, Crump followed Guillot Lara and Bassols, the number two man in the embassy, by telephone.
"Then we begin to talk from Miami to Panama. The first time, Jamie was with Bassols. Bassols told me, 'We need the weapons' - he didn't say weapons, he said 'clothes for the boutique.' He said 'Do you remember that list Galvan gave you? It's important.'"
Crump listened by shortwave radio. He heard the captain say a Coast Guard boat was trailing the Colombian vessel. At 6 a.m., Guillot Lara from Colombia gave orders to sink the boat.
The boat, however, didn't sink, so buoyed was it with marijuana - 50,000 pounds of it. The Coast Guard towed the ship back to port.
It's name was Viviana, crudely painted over its previous name, Capt. Tony.
"So then," says Crump. "I knew that the boat had been in Cuba."
Another confidential informant of the DEA saw this boat being loaded, as Guillot Lara watched, and was with him when he ordered it sunk.
Now Guillot Lara was in deep financial trouble. He owed money to the M-19 guerrillas and to the Cubans - about $500,000.
Crump tried to help. From his house in Miami, he called Ambassador Ravelo's home in Cuba. The ex-ambassador was not home. But the call ended up on Crump's phone bill, which was later obtained by the DEA.
Crump managed to buy a few weapons in Miami: 10 M-16s, five Uzi submachine guns, and a few 9 mm pistols. But an intermediary was not able to deliver them.
When Crump told Guillot Lara about the problems and the phone call to Cuba, Guillot Lara said: "Don't do that again. Don't worry. We're working on something bigger."
Colombian authorities discovered the plane the next day. The crew was missing, but there were empty crates, with stamps indicating the weapons had been packed in Colon, Panama.
Over the next few days, the newly armed guerrillas raided several small towns in the region.
In early November, Bogota newspapers reported that the Aerospeca crew members had been freed and were being interrogated by the Colombian army, now homing in on Guillot Lara.
On Nov. 17, the Colombian navy sank a Guillot Lara boat off the Pacific coast of Colombia. About 20 persons died. Three low-level M-19 members were rescued. They said the boat had tons of weapons intended for the guerrillas.
Guillot Lara was running scared. Accompanied by his girlfriend Carmen and the Cuban Bassols, he hoped between Panama and Mexico, and briefly went to Nicaragua, where he conferred with Jaime Bateman, the head of the M-19.
He could have sought refuge there, but, inexplicably, he returned to Mexico and went to the Hotel Cancun. To keep him going, Bassols gave him $10,000 in cash.
On Dec. 4, 1981, Guillot Lara was arrested.
Everything had fallen apart. In the next few days, a person close to him was coerced into cooperating with the DEA. The source talked about virtually everything, including Johnny Crump's involvement with the Cubans.
Guillot Lara began talking too. The Colombians wanted him extradited to Miami. Cuba demanded he be freed.
Guillot Lara, undoubtedly under pressure, talked to CIA agents. According to a U.S. State Department document, he talked a lot: "By his own admission, Guillot has been involved in trafficking operations to Colombia for the M-19 on behalf of the government of Cuba. The latter provided the funds for the purchase of the arms."
In Miami, in January 1982, Johnny Crump was arrested at Omni International.
He was taken to a conference room at the U.S. Customs, where as many as a dozen agents sat around a table.
By 11 p.m., Crump says he knew he had had it: "I see that they have all the information."