U.S. officials publicly alleged Saturday in Miami that Fidel Castro's government has conspired with South Florida drug smugglers in a systematic campaign to reap drug profits and weaken American society.
"The United States has developed new evidence from a variety of sources confirming that Cuban officials have facilitated narcotics trafficking through the Caribbean," said James H. Michel, the State Department's deputy assistant secretary for inter-American affairs.
"The evidence clearly indicates more than a case of corruption by local or mid-level security officials in Cuba," Michel said at a congressional hearing in the Dade County Courthouse.
Testimony by Michel and other federal officials Saturday before the Senate Drug Enforcement Caucus shored up similar allegations made by the State Department more than a year ago.
"We have a report that the Communist Party Presidium and specifically Fidel Castro, in early 1979, considered a scheme to begin dealing with narcotics smugglers using Cuba as a bridge and support base for the networks to the U.S. as a means to aid Cuba economically and to contribute to the deterioration of American society," Michel said in a prepared statement.
The Cuban government has heatedly denied the accusations, which originated with the Miami federal prosecution of the so-called Guillott-Lara drug case in Miami, in which four senior Cuban officials were indicted in absentia.
Among the officials who testified Saturday was Miami U.S. Attorney Stanley Marcus, who outlined the evidence in the Guillot-Lara case that implicated the Cuban government.
Sen. Paula Hawkins (R., Fla.) pressed Marcus on whether the case proved the Cuban government itself was in the drug smuggling business.
"I think that is a reasoned interference that can be fairly drawn," Marcus said.
That issue is central to an ongoing debate within the U.S. intelligence community about the extent to which the Cuban government is involved.
FBI Director William Webster recently acknowledged that Cuba has provided a "safe harbor" for drug smugglers, but he said there is no evidence of a concerted effort by the Cubans to support narcotics trafficking.
Francis Mullen, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, took a similar position during another congressional hearing last year.
Saturday, he went further.
"We have received additional intelligence which may indicate continuing Cuban complicity in the drug traffic," Mullen said in a prepared statement.
"It is difficult not to believe that the government of Cuba remains cognizant of the movement of drugs through its territory and may be facilitating this movement."
The U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Thomas Boyatt, was more blunt.
"I'm telling you that it happened," he insisted during an interview before his testimony. "The Cuban government, as a matter of policy, for a long period of time, until exposed, was involved in drug smuggling.
"It was a [Cuban intelligence] operation with the blessing of Fidel," he said.
In addition to Hawkins, who directed the hearing, Sens. Jesse Helms (R., N.C.), Jeremiah Denton (R., Ala.) and Dennis DeConcini (D., Ariz.) also participated.
The State Department officials' assertions were underscored by three government witnesses who testified under tight security.
Johnny Crump, an admitted Colombian drug dealer now in the Federal Witness Protection Program, told the caucus that he plugged into the "Cuban Connection" through a good friend, Cuba's ambassador to Colombia.
"A complete government behind you is a dream," Crump testified. "....I believe it was to try and hurt the U.S."
Crump's face was concealed by a black hood, and he was surrounded by burly U.S. marshals.
David Perez, another Miami drug-runner, testified that he first heard of the "Cuban friends" through a rich associate in the drug business, Jaime Guillot-Lara.
Guillot "told me that he could get drugs into Cuba easily because he was paying money to the Cuban government for their protection," Perez told the assembled members of Congress.
Part of the deal, he said, was to travel to Cuba, rendezvous with Cuban gunboats, and then haul 10 million Quaaludes back to Miami.
During one trip, Perez said he was greeted by a Cuban gunboat and told "the Cuban government was happy that they were bringing drugs into the U.S."
Mario Estevez-Gonzalez, a burly former sergeant in the Cuban Ministry of Interior, said he was sent to Miami during the Mariel boatlift as an infiltration agent, but was soon involved in the drug trade.
"I was ordered that it was important to load up the U.S. with drugs," Estevez said through an interpreter.
He said he received training at a school run by Cuba's intelligence service, the DGI, and after coming to Miami made 14 trips by boat back to Cuba.
He said that during one visit, Aldo Santamaria, a vice admiral in the Cuban navy, joked with him about the drug smuggling.
"He put his arm on my shoulder and said, "We are finally going to have a drug store in the U.S.," Estevez claimed.
He also said Cuba's intelligence service, the DGI, undertook a "top secret operation" in which high-grade marijuana intended for export to the U.S. was grown on large farms in southwest Cuba.
"Have you seen the fields?" Hawkins asked.
"Sure," Estevez said. "...The DGI has that in its charge."
Of the three masked witnesses, Estevez was the most controversial.
Several weeks ago, he testified he was one of 3,000 Cuban agents sent to Miami during the Mariel boatlift. Friday, he said the number could be as high as 7,000.
Hawkins pressed Estevez to be specific on the number of agents.
"Many, yes," Estevez answered. Moments later he added: "The DGI has a very broad plan."
Near the end of his testimony, Estevez startled the Senate caucus by declaring: "There are Russian atomic missiles in Cuba."
He offered no details.