Drug trafficking through Cuba on the rise, investigators say
Herald Staff Writer
HAVANA -- Cuba, once considered off-limits to drug trafficking, is confronting
noticeable narcotics problem amid signs that the island has become a conduit for
multi-ton shipments of cocaine.
At first, police in Colombia thought it was an anomaly on Dec. 3 when they
a 7.2-ton load of cocaine packed in shipping containers and bound for Cuba.
But Colombian authorities are now certain that smugglers have utilized
Cuba as a
major transshipment point for cocaine before.
``No one dares to send 7 tons at one blow unless they've tested the route,''
Colombian law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He said investigators looking into the Barranquilla, Colombia, shipping
dispatched the drug-laden containers in December found that the same company
had shipped containers via Cuba on seven previous occasions in 1997 and 1998.
``How much cocaine was sent? We don't know,'' the source said.
In the past, a few senior Cuban military officials have been accused of
facilitate the flow of drugs through Cuban waters or airspace, but this case is
bigger and the drugs involved were touching down on Cuban soil.
President Fidel Castro, admitting that the latest shipments may have passed
through Havana, recently demanded the death penalty for drug traffickers.
``The harm that this is causing us, that this is beginning to cause, isn't
only a matter
of prestige but also the foothold that this mortal poison is gaining among our
youth,'' Castro said in a tough speech on crime Jan. 5.
Drug arrests increase
Reading from an Interior Ministry report, Castro said drug arrests and
almost doubled in 1998. Authorities seized 234 pounds of cocaine in 101 busts,
and 177 pounds of marijuana in 978 incidents in the first 10 months of 1998, he
``For possession and trafficking, 1,216 people were arrested, which indicates
rise in this criminal activity,'' he read from the report.
Given Cuba's vaunted system of state security, the sale of cocaine and
was growing surprisingly common in Havana discotheques until authorities flooded
streets with police early this month, residents say.
The presence of narcotics has risen alongside Cuba's booming tourism and the
opening of the economy to foreign investors.
Castro accused two Spanish investors of masterminding the 7.2-ton cocaine
shipment seized in Colombia, saying Jose Royo Llorca and Jose Anastasio
Herrera fled Cuba for Spain because Colombia did not notify his government
The two men are in Valencia, Spain, and have been notified by a court in
that they have become part of a criminal inquiry, their lawyer, Salvador Guillem,
told The Herald.
Guillem said neither Spaniard had anything to do with the cocaine and that
may be seeking to confiscate some $550,000 in assets they invested in a small
factory that makes plastic souvenirs, ashtrays and lamps.
``Strains had developed with the Ministry [of Light Industry] and they
were in the
process of negotiating the factory's closure. It's possible this [drug allegation] is
being used as an excuse by the Cuban government to seize my clients' assets,''
The cocaine seized Dec. 3 was packed in compartments hidden in six shipping
containers, police said. The containers were routed to Havana via Kingston,
Jamaica. The Barranquilla shipping company, E.I. Caribe, had sent 20 containers
in 1997 and 1998 to Royo's Havana factory, Artesania Caribe Poliplast & Royo,
Colombian authorities said.
Still unclear is any role Cubans may have had in facilitating the drug shipments.
In his speech, Castro maintained that Cubans were not involved: ``No signs
occurred that implicate Cubans in international narcotics trafficking, although a few
[Cubans] have not followed norms and established procedures, thus allowing the
activity to occur.''
Castro said the two Spaniards rented 14 cabanas at Rio Cristal, a palm-fringed
resort near Havana's airport, for months at a time, and sometimes hosted
expensive and unruly parties.
He also said they had set up a financing office in Panama, GFA Financial
that was offering $12 million in credit lines to Cuban state companies in an
apparent money-laundering scheme.
Not well known
The Spaniards kept a low profile in Havana's small business circles.
A French motorcycle vendor who visits Cuba often and is friends with Royo
Herrera voiced shock at Castro's allegations.
``They are not guilty. I'm not 100 percent sure, but I am 99 percent sure,''
Louis Honteberi said in a telephone interview from Biarritz, France. Of Royo, he
added: ``He doesn't have much money. When I heard what Fidel Castro said
about him, I thought, `This isn't true.' ''
The drug seizure in Colombia was the second-largest in that country last
slightly surpassed by a bust four months earlier of drugs bound for Mexico, police
Concern about the use of Cuba as a transshipment point led Cuba and Colombia
to sign a drug cooperation accord during a visit to Havana by Colombian
President Andres Pastrana this month. Colombia's national police chief, Rosso
Jose Serrano, told The Herald later that cooperation between the two countries
``is going well.''
Charges of complicity in drug trafficking by Cuban officials have surfaced
occasionally. U.S. officials say they believe drug-laden airplanes from Colombia
have dropped cocaine packets in Cuban territorial waters.
In November 1982, a federal grand jury in Miami indicted four Cuban government
officials, including a vice-admiral of the navy, for allegedly permitting smugglers to
use the island as a transshipment point for Quaaludes, marijuana and cocaine. The
accused were never arrested.
In 1989, Cuban authorities ordered the firing squad executions of army
Arnaldo Ochoa and Interior Ministry Col. Antonio de la Guardia for drug
trafficking and treason.
And just two days before Castro addressed police, in early January, de
Guardia's 34-year-old daughter, Ileana, filed suit in Paris, where she is living in
exile, charging that Castro knew of cocaine shipments through Cuba by the
Medellin Cartel in the late 1980s.
Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald