A Bomber's Tale
By ANN LOUISE BARDACH and LARRY ROHTER
MIAMI -- A Cuban exile who has waged a campaign of bombings
and assassination attempts aimed at toppling Fidel Castro says
that his efforts were supported financially for more than a decade by the
Cuban-American leaders of one of America's most influential lobbying
The exile, Luis
Posada Carriles, said he
organized a wave of bombings in Cuba last
year at hotels, restaurants and discothèques,
killing an Italian tourist and alarming the Cuban
Government. Posada was schooled in
demolition and guerrilla warfare by the Central Intelligence Agency in the
In a series of
tape-recorded interviews at a walled Caribbean compound,
Posada said the hotel bombings and other operations had been supported
by leaders of the Cuban-American National Foundation. Its founder and
head, Jorge Mas Canosa, who died last year, was embraced at the White
House by Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton.
A powerful force
in both Florida and national elections, and a prodigious
campaign donor, Mas played a decisive role in persuading Clinton to
change his mind and follow a course of sanctions and isolation against
tax-exempt foundation has declared that it seeks to bring
down Cuba's Communist Government solely through peaceful means,
Posada said leaders of the foundation discreetly financed his operations.
Mas personally supervised the flow of money and logistical support, he
everything," Posada said. "Whenever I needed money,
he said to give me $5,000, give me $10,000, give me $15,000, and they
sent it to me."
Over the years,
Posada estimated, Mas sent him more than $200,000.
"He never said, 'This is from the foundation,' " Posada recalled. Rather, he
said with a chuckle, the money arrived with the message, "This is for the
did not respond to repeated telephone calls and
letters requesting an interview to discuss their relationship with Posada.
But in a brief statement faxed to The New York Times, the group denied
a role in his operations, saying "any allegation, implication, or suggestion
that members of the Cuban American National Foundation have financed
any alleged 'acts of violence' against the Castro regime are totally and
Talking on His Terms, After Years of Silence
Posada, 70, has long refused to talk to journalists; his autobiography,
published in 1994, provided only a sketchy account of his dealings
with the foundation's leaders.
But in two days
of interviews, he talked openly for the first time about
those relationships and how they figured in a fight to which he has devoted
his life, a fight that has left him far from his declared goal of toppling the
hemisphere's last Communist state.
His motives for
agreeing to the interviews are not easy to pin down.
Posada, who has survived several attempts on his life, told a friend
recently that he was afraid he would not live long enough to tell his story.
For the first
time, Posada also described his role in some of the great cold
war events in which Cuban exiles were key players. He was trained for
the Bay of Pigs at a camp in Guatemala, but did not participate in the
landing on Cuban beaches after the Kennedy Administration withheld air
support from the first wave of rebels, whose attack quickly foundered.
It was Cuban
exiles like Posada who were recruited by the C.I.A. for the
subsequent attempts on Castro's life.
Jailed for one
of the most infamous anti-Cuban attacks, the 1976
bombing of a civilian Cubana airliner, he eventually escaped from a
Venezuelan prison to join the centerpiece of the Reagan White House's
anti-Communist crusade in the Western Hemisphere: Lieut. Col. Oliver L.
North's clandestine effort to supply arms to Nicaraguan contras.
any role in the Cubana bombing, which killed 73 people,
many of them teen-age members of Cuba's national fencing team.
He agreed through
an intermediary to meet with The New York Times,
provided his current residence and alias, and the location of the
interviews, were not divulged.
Some of what
he said about his past can be verified through recently
declassified Government documents, as well as interviews with former
foundation members and American officials.
But he made several
claims that rest solely on his word, including an
assertion that he has agents inside the Cuban military and that American
law enforcement authorities maintained an attitude of benign neglect
toward him for most of his career, allowing him to remain free and active.
Posada said all
payments from the exile leaders to him were made in cash,
and he said he did not know whether the money came from personal,
business or foundation accounts. He said that the money was used for his
living expenses and for operations and that Mas told him he did not want
to know the details of his activities.
In the interviews
he was generally expansive on broad questions of
philosophy but evasive on specifics. He spoke in Spanish and English,
with difficulty, his speech distorted by the severe damage done to the
nerves of his tongue in a 1990 attempt on his life.
Posada said he
was angered by recent newspaper accounts of his
activities and eager near the end of his life to put his version of events on
record, perhaps reinvigorating a movement he sees as lacking energy and
direction since Mas's death.
The exiles' foundation,
created in 1981, has sought to portray itself as the
responsible voice of the Cuban exile community, dedicated to weakening
the Castro regime through politics rather than force. Thanks to that
approach and millions in campaign donations, the foundation became one
of Washington's most effective lobbying organizations and a principal
architect of American policy toward Cuba.
that the foundation or its leaders were dispensing money to
Republicans and Democrats while underwriting bombings could weaken
the group's claim to legitimacy. That kind of activity could also violate the
Logan Act, which makes illegal any "conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or
injure persons or damage property in a foreign country."
hinted that the foundation's public advocacy of purely
nonviolent opposition to Castro was a carefully crafted fiction. Asked if
he functioned as the military wing to the foundation's political wing, much
as the Irish Republican Army does for Sinn Fein, he replied, "It looks like
that," and laughed.
Assertions and Denials on Sources of Support
In the interviews and in his autobiography, "The Roads of the Warrior,"
Posada said he had received financial support from Mas and Feliciano
Foyo, treasurer of the group, as well as Alberto Hernández, who
succeeded Mas as chairman.
and Foyo did not respond to repeated requests for
comment, and it was unclear whether they were aware of how Posada
might have used any money they provided. In his autobiography, Posada
said foundation leaders helped pay his medical and living expenses and
paid for his transportation from Venezuela to Central America after his
At times, Posada
said, cash was delivered from Miami by fellow exiles,
including Gaspar Jiménez, who was jailed in Mexico in the 1976 killing of
a Cuban diplomat there. Jiménez is now an employee of the medical clinic
that Dr. Hernández operates in Miami, according to employees at the
Jiménez did not respond to requests for comment.
When the bombs
began exploding last year at Cuban hotels, the
Government there asserted that the attacks had been organized and paid
for by exiles operating out of Miami, a claim it bolstered with the
videotape of an operative confessing to carrying out some of the
reports in The Miami Herald and the state-controlled
Cuban press tied the operation to Posada. However, he told The New
York Times that American authorities had made no effort to question him
about the case. He attributed that lack of action in part to his longstanding
relationship with American law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
"As you can see,"
he said, "the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. don't bother me, and
I am neutral with them. Whenever I can help them, I do."
Posada gave conflicting
accounts of his contacts with American
authorities. Initially he spoke of enduring ties with United States
intelligence agencies and of close friendship with at least two current
F.B.I. officials, including, he said, an important official in the Washington
"I know a very high-up person there," he said.
Later he asked
that those comments be omitted from any article and said
it had been years since he had had these close dealings.
An American Government
official said the C.I.A. has not had a
relationship with Posada "in decades," and the F.B.I. also denied his
assertions. "The F.B.I. does not now have nor have we ever had a
longstanding relationship with Posada," said John F. Lewis, Jr. who as
assistant director in charge of the national security division supervises all
counterintelligence and counterterrorism work for the agency.
documents unearthed in Washington by the National Security
Archives support Posada's suggestion that the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. had
detailed knowledge of his operations against Cuba from the early 1960's
to the mid-1970's.
G. Robert Blakey,
chief counsel to the 1978 House Select Committee on
Assassinations, said he had reviewed many of the F.B.I.'s classified files
about anti-Castro Cubans from 1978 and had noted many instances in
which the bureau turned a blind eye to possible violations of the law. As
he put it, "When I read some of those things, and I'm an old Federal
prosecutor, I thought, 'Why isn't someone being indicted for this?' "
On one point
Posada was direct and unrepentant: he still intends to try to
kill Castro, and he believes violence is the best method for ending
Communism in Cuba.
"It is the only
way to create an uprising there," Posada said. "Castro will
never change, never. There are several ways to make a revolution, and I
have been working on some."
Cuban exile circles, Posada is a legendary figure,
celebrated for his tenacity and dedication to the anti-Castro cause. He has
at various times also worked for Venezuelan, Salvadoran and Guatemalan
intelligence or security agencies because, he explained, he wanted "to fight
against the Communists, the people who helped Cuba."
But the Cuban
Government regards him as a terrorist and a "monstrous
criminal" responsible for numerous acts of violence against official
installations and personnel, on the island and off, and has called on the
United States to curb his activities.
admitted authorship of the hotel bomb attacks last year.
He described them as acts of war intended to cripple a totalitarian regime
by depriving it of foreign tourism and investment.
"We didn't want
to hurt anybody," he said. "We just wanted to make a
big scandal so that the tourists don't come anymore. We don't want any
more foreign investment."
The bombs were
also intended, Posada said, to sow doubts abroad
about the stability of the regime, to make Cuba think he had operatives in
the military and to encourage internal opposition. "People are not afraid
anymore," he said. "They talk openly in the street. But they need
something to start the fire, and that's my goal."
A Mastermind Reveals Some Key Secrets
For several months the attacks did indeed discourage tourism. With a
rueful chuckle, Posada described the Italian tourist's death as a
freak accident, but he declared that he had a clear conscience, saying, "I
sleep like a baby."
"It is sad that
someone is dead, but we can't stop," he added. "That Italian
was sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time."
In Havana last
September, authorities arrested a 25-year-old Salvadoran,
Raúl Ernesto Cruz León, and accused him of carrying out a half-dozen of
the hotel attacks. Posada said Cruz León, whom he described as a
mercenary, had been working for him, but said "maybe a dozen" others
reporting to him remained at large.
The hotel bombings
were organized from El Salvador and Guatemala,
Posada said. Explosives were obtained through his contacts there, and
subordinates in turn recruited couriers like Cruz León to take the
explosives into Cuba and detonate them in carefully selected targets.
compartmentalized," Posada said. "I know everybody, but
they don't know me."
"This was an
inside operation in Cuba," he added, explaining that he was
now trying to think of another way to disrupt the Cuban economy and
demonstrate to the Cuban people that Castro's security apparatus is not
all-powerful and all-knowing. "Very soon there will be exciting news," he
Posada said he
had several ongoing operations, including one that resulted
in Cuba's capture of three of his colleagues in early June. "Castro is
keeping this a secret," he said. "I don't understand why."
In response to
several questions about operational details that he clearly
did not want to answer, he jokingly said, "I take the Fifth Amendment."
to allow the interviews to be taped, he declined to be
photographed, saying he did not want to provide Cuban agents with any
information that would help them hunt him down. "The reason that I last
so long is that nobody knows how I am," he explained. "Not having
pictures of my pretty face has kept me alive a long time."
in 1990, he was attacked and gravely wounded in what he
describes as an assassination attempt mounted by his enemies at Cuban
intelligence. He was hit with a dozen bullets, one of which shattered his
jaw and nearly severed his tongue, requiring several rounds of
He said that
during his long recuperation in El Salvador, some of his
expenses were paid by Dr. Hernández, the current chairman of the
Cuban-American foundation, whom he described as "a great Cuban
patriot and a dear friend." Just last year, he said, a Houston surgeon
whom he also described as a friend flew to El Salvador and performed
further surgery on him.
instances of support from foundation leaders throughout
his career. Mas, he said, helped organize his escape from a Venezuelan
prison in 1985, and then helped settle him in El Salvador, where he joined
the White House-directed operation that led to the Iran-contra scandal.
"All the money
that I received when I escaped from the jail," he said, "it
was not that much, but it was through Jorge."
Posada said Mas
was also very much aware that he was behind the hotel
bombing campaign last year. But the two men had a longstanding
agreement, he said, never to discuss the details of any operation that
Posada was involved in.
"He never met
operators, never," Posada said. "You ask for money from
him, and he said, 'I don't want to know anything.' " Any discussion was
"not specific, because he was intelligent enough to know who knows how
to do the things and who doesn't know."
Mas, he added, "was afraid of the telephone."
"You don't talk like that on the telephone."
Asked when he
had last visited the United States, he answered with a
laugh and a question of his own: "Officially or unofficially?" A State
Department official said Posada was reported to have visited Miami in the
summer of 1996.
that he has at least four passports, all in different
names. He regards himself as a Venezuelan citizen, but he has a
Salvadoran passport bearing the name Ramón Medina Rodríguez, the
nom de guerre he assumed during the Iran-contra affair, and a
Guatemalan passport issued in the name of Juan José Rivas Lopez.
He also reluctantly
admitted to having an American passport. But he
would not discuss how he had obtained it or disclose the name in it,
saying only that he occasionally uses it to visit the United States
"unofficially," and had once used it to gain refuge in the American
Embassy when he was caught in the middle of a revolution in the West
African country of Sierra Leone.
"I have a lot of passports," he said with a laugh. "No problem."
He added, "If
I want to go to Miami, I have different ways to go. But I
don't go. You can't control Customs people. They can do anything."
"Then," he said,
"Your friends can't help you."