11 December 1978

Cuban General Lies Repeatedly About Torturing U.S. POWs

'Minister of Education' Confronted With Intercepted Orders, Intelligencee Reports and Congressional Protests of His Tour of U.S.

By:  The SPOTLIGHT Staff

WASHINGTON----If General Fernando Vecino Alegret of Cuba has one talent that exceeds his ability to torture Americans held prisoner in North Vietnam it is his ability to lie about it.
    Vecino, under repeated questioning during a confrontation November 22 at the National Press Club, insisted that he had never been in Vietnam.
 Although Vecino was heard speaking fluent English by two SPOTLIGHT staffers prior to the meeting, he used an unidentified woman interpreter as a means of building a psychological wall between himself and his questioners.
    Nevertheless, syndicated columnist Paul Scott, who first exposed Vecino as the man who directed the torture of GIs held in North Vietnam on a special SPOTLIGHT assignment  (November 20), pressed the point that the U.S. State Department—which now joins Vecino in pretending that the Cuban butcher was “never in Vietnam”—had intercepted orders from the Castro regime for Vecino to go to North Vietnam in 1967.
    Vecino was unable to explain this other than to again deny that he had ever been in Vietnam.  Vecino’s demeanor during the questions indicated that he understood them before the interpreter relayed them to him in Spanish.
    SPOTLIGHT:  General, I want to read one paragraph form a letter from U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Congressman (John) Ashbrook (R-Ohio) to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance protesting your visit here: “Allowance of his visit will in effect be taken as a sign throughout the world that one can take part in the killing of ‘moderate blacks’ and the torturing of U.S. prisoners of war and still be welcomed at our institutions of higher learning.”
    Sources within the intelligence community stand firmly behind the fact that the general was in Vietnam and directed the torture of American prisoners.
    VECINO:  It is regrettable that a U.S. senator is, uh, so, uh, uh badly informed.... (indecipherable).....the criminals who were in Cuba many years ago were Americans.....
    Earlier, Vecino had admitted being in Angola where he said he was “honored” to help Cuban forces defend the African nation from an “invasion.”
    Although somebody who identified himself as representing the “Nigerian Times” kept trying to rescue Cuba’s “minister of education” with sweetheart questions about “the difference in education in Cuba today,” a surprising number of Washington reporters kept pushing the hard questions.
    Again and again, to the question, “do you deny being in Vietnam?”  the Cuban butcher insisted he had never been there.  Vecino said that from 1966 to 1973 he directed education activities in
Cuba and went to Angola at the end of 1975 “during the war of aggression there.”
    He refused to say how many Cubans were sent, remain and died in Angola.  He was pressed repeatedly on whether the remains of dead Cuban soldiers were brought home, finally saying that those who died “defending” Angola were buried there.
    “Do you mean that not one Cuban family wanted the body of a single soldier brought home for burial?”  Vecino was challenged.  He said he couldn’t answer.  Cuba buried its dead in Angola to keep its own home front, as well as the rest of the world, from knowing how many died, U.S. intelligence sources said.
    At one point, Vecino said Cuba’s military was built up only to defend the island.  He was asked how Cuban troops, fighting in collaboration with the Soviet Union in Angola, were “defending Cuba.” Vecino then decided that Cuba had some great moral purpose in Angola but failed to articulate it through his translator.
    When the question of the MIG-23s arose, Vecino said they were for defense only.  “With a range of 1200 miles?” someone shouted.  The general smiled.
    “Are you going to use them in Nicaragua?”  somebody asked.  Vecino said the revolutionary forces in that country need no help from Cuba but refused to disavow any intentions by his
government to interfere.
    (In Cuba the same day, Fidel Castro was saying that President Carter had known about the presence of the Soviet jets for a year and that, in effect, the latest spy flights over Cuba are a
grandstand act.  Under the agreement during the famous missile crisis of 1962, Cuba promised not to deploy weapons of aggression.  In the opinion of America’s military leaders, the MIG-23s are aggressive, not defensive, weapons.)
    The press club meeting was attended by 100 reporters, including Associated Press, United Press
International and TV cameramen.  The Washington “Post” and “Star” carried nothing on the confrontation.
    It was Vecino’s only hostile confrontation with the press during his tour of the U.S. and the National Press Club had expected this to be another honeymoon limited to polite questions.
There were some feeble attempts at first to laugh down the hostile questions. But, on this rare occasion, the reporters pursued the tough issues.  The meeting had been moved from a smaller room when the press turnout exceeded original estimates.
    Adding to tension was the National Press Club’s tradition of turning every meeting between the press and a public figure with such rare examples as Rhodesia’s Ian Smith, who faced angry
questions into a sweetheart session.  So, when a few reporters pursued the issue of Vecino’s directing the torture of Americans and his role in Angola, it took most members by surprise.
    As a Washington journalist of 25 years remarked, “These State Department ‘reporters’ think they’re diplomats themselves; they’re used to grabbing the press releases, asking nice-boy
questions, and writing a bunch of Pablum—anything else makes them uncomfortable.”