December 1, 1999

Castro alleges U.S.-based exiles plotting to kill Venezuela's president

                  HAVANA (AP) -- Fidel Castro says his intelligence services have
                  discovered a plot by Miami-based Cuban exiles to kill Venezuelan
                  President Hugo Chavez, whose critics maintain he wants to imitate Cuba's
                  socialist revolution.

                  Castro said in an interview Tuesday night with Venezuelan journalists that he
                  had not even told Chavez, a friend and ally of the Cuban president.

                  "In these dangerous cases it is always important not to lose a minute," Castro
                  said. "Chavez is learning about this along with you."

                  Castro offered no motive for the alleged plot.

                  The Cuban leader said the killing was to be committed in December by a
                  commando group with money provided by a member of the politically
                  influential Cuban-American National Foundation.

                  Although the foundation is unabashedly anti-Castro, its leaders have
                  repeatedly insisted they reject violence to overthrow the communist

                  Foundation spokeswoman Ninoska Perez laughed when asked about the
                  allegation late Tuesday. "What can I even say about this? It's so ridiculous,"
                  she said.

                  Officials in Venezuela were not immediately available for comment.

                  During the interview, Castro defended Chavez. Chavez praised the Cuban
                  Revolution when he visited the communist isle earlier this month.

                  "We are not brothers in Marxism, in socialism, in communism, but in dignity,"
                  said Castro, who in an unusual move donned a business suit rather than his
                  typical olive green military uniform for the conference.

                  Although the announcement about the alleged assassination plot was meant
                  for a worldwide audience, his earlier statements about Chavez were
                  apparently aimed at the Venezuelan people -- whose upper classes fear a
                  "Cubanization" of their nation.

                  In announcing the alleged plot, Castro read from documents by the
                  communist country's intelligence services, which said Cuban exiles laid out
                  plans for Chavez's assassination during a Nov. 18 meeting in Miami.

                  Castro even released what he said were the address and the phone number
                  of the office where the meeting allegedly took place.

                  Calls to the number early today reached an answering machine that invited
                  callers to leave a message but did not identify the business or the person on
                  the recording.

                  Castro also alleged the group had close ties with Luis Posada Carriles, a
                  Cuban exile living in El Salvador. The communist government accuses him of
                  responsibility in the 1976 bombing of a Cubana airliner that killed 73 people.

                  Posada Carriles was twice acquitted of that action, but spent nine years in a
                  Venezuelan prison before escaping in 1985. Cuba also accuses him of
                  helping organize a string of bombings at Havana tourist locales in 1997,
                  including one that killed an Italian man.

                  Castro said the assassination squad was to arrive in Venezuela through a
                  third country to prevent raising suspicions.

                  You know that Chavez's "own security corps is not well organized," Castro
                  told the dozen or so Venezuelan journalists. "That takes time."

                  The announcement came at the end of the news conference, which stretched
                  over more than four hours at the Council of State in Havana, where Castro
                  keeps his offices. Foreign journalists in Havana watched the conference live
                  via closed circuit television.

                  Chavez remains immensely popular a year after his election as president, but
                  signs of discontent are growing. Some members of the middle and upper
                  classes fear the former paratrooper and unsuccessful military coup leader is
                  leading Venezuela toward authoritarian rule.

                  During a nationally televised speech by Chavez on Monday, residents of
                  affluent Caracas neighborhoods banged pots to protest a proposed
                  constitution to be considered in an upcoming referendum.

                  Chavez on Tuesday warned of civil war if voters reject the proposed
                  constitution, which he says is aimed at strengthening Venezuela's discredited
                  democracy, cleaning up corruption and reducing poverty.