The Hartford Courant
November 8, 1999

Report: Freed nationalists had links to Cuban intelligence

                  HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) The Puerto Rican nationalists offered clemency by
                  President Clinton were members of two groups with ties to Cuban
                  intelligence agents, The Hartford Courant reported.

                  The newspaper reported Sunday that FBI files on a Wells Fargo robbery in
                  West Hartford document Cuba's support for the Puerto Rican independence
                  movement. The contents of the files have not been disclosed until now, The
                  Courant said.

                  The FBI monitored conversations and meetings between Cuban intelligence
                  agents and members of the group Los Macheteros, Spanish for ''The Cane

                  ''Numerous court-authorized interceptions of conversations ... have
                  determined that the Cubans support and direct the Macheteros at a firsthand
                  level,'' the FBI said in a confidential memo.

                  In addition to analyzing the FBI investigation of the 1983 armored car
                  robbery, The Courant said it interviewed 50 sources including former Cuban
                  agents, FBI agents and congressional investigators.

                  In September, President Clinton freed 11 jailed nationalists, members of Los
                  Macheteros or the FALN, the Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of
                  National Liberation.

                  The FALN has claimed responsibility for numerous bombings in the United
                  States; its 1975 bombing of Fraunces Tavern in New York killed four and
                  injured 63. Los Macheteros, with the exception of the $7.1 million Wells
                  Fargo robbery, attacked U.S. government targets in Puerto Rico.

                  None of the prisoners offered clemency were directly involved in violent acts,
                  Clinton said, and he acted on human rights activists' arguments that the
                  prisoners had paid their debt by serving an average 19 years in jail.

                  In its Wells Fargo investigation, the FBI learned that Machetero leaders met
                  regularly with their Cuban contacts in Mexico City, but sometimes also met
                  in Cuba.

                  According to a former Cuban intelligence officer, Cubans in Mexico City
                  provided Victor M. Gerena the Wells Fargo guard who stole the money with
                  forged identity documents which enabled him to escape to Havana.

                  About a third of the stolen cash went to the Cubans, sources told The

                  When the FBI closed its Wells Fargo investigation in 1985, some
                  investigators argued that four Cuban officers should have been listed as
                  unindicted co-conspirators.

                  A now-retired FBI counterterrorism officer said he never learned why the
                  Cubans were left out of the indictment. A Cuban source speculated that the
                  U.S. Department of State did not want to jeopardize indirect talks between
                  the two countries.

                  ''The thing that always amazed me was that it didn't cause a ripple,'' said the
                  retired FBI agent, whom the newspaper did not identify.

                  White House spokesman Jim Kennedy, asked whether Cuban support for
                  the nationalists was considered during deliberations on the clemency offer,
                  said decisions about clemency are confidential.

                  The president ''made his decision after a careful and balanced consideration
                  of the facts, the law and the differing points of view on the subject,'' Kennedy

                  White House spokesman Mike Hammer, contacted by The Associated
                  Press, said nobody was available Saturday to comment on the specifics of
                  the report.

                  Filiberto Ojeda Rios, a wanted Macheteros leader who has been in hiding in
                  Puerto Rico for years, angrily denied any ties to Cuba during an interview
                  with Puerto Rican radio journalist Luis Penchi.

                  ''That is ridiculous, absurd,'' he said. ''I don't know where that version came
                  from, nor am I going to ask you, but I am going to tell you that it is
                  completely false, ridiculous and there is nothing to discuss.''

                  A spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section, which serves as Havana's de
                  facto embassy in Washington, also dismissed the link. The office was
                  closed Saturday.

                  ''I have no information on that,'' said Luis M. Fernandez. ''In my opinion, it is
                  more science fiction than anything else.''