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Five Senior Cuban Officers Arrested in Drug Scandal

July 31, 1989

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Reports from Cuba Monday said five senior officers were arrested, including a former interior minister, and five demoted one rank and retired for alleged negligence or complicity in Cuba’s drug scandal.

Maj. Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and three other officers were tried for drug smuggling and other crimes and executed July 13. Another 10 tried at the same time were sent to prison for terms ranging from 10 to 30 years.

The latest reports indicated the Communist Party’s Central Committee, headed by by President Fidel Castro, ordered the new crackdown.

Dispatches from the Mexican government news agency Notimex and Prensa Latina, the official Cuban news agency, did not say if Brig. Gen. Jose Abrantes Fernandez, the former interior minister, and the others arrested would be tried.

Abrantes was dismissed as interior minister June 26, soon after information about the drug scandal was released to the public. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. Abelardo Colome Ibarra, Cuba’s third-ranking officer after Castro and his younger brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro.

Prensa Latina said the others arrested in the latest action were Brig. Gen. Roberto Gonzalez Caso, a former head of immigraton; Oscar Carreno Gomez, former customs chief; Lt. Col. Rolando Castaneda Izquierdo, and Hector Carbonell Mendez, director of a state-owned company that dealt in foreign currency.

It said Arsenio Franco Villanueva, Amado Valdez Gonzalez, Felix Veliz Hernandez, Miguel Bermejo Labrada and Manuel Suarez Alvarez, all brigadiers, were demoted to colonel and retired.

The dispatches identified them as members of the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of internal security and has its own military force. The ministry controls all police and agencies like customs and immigration.

Evidence at the trial of Ochoa and the others revealed a secret operation within the ministry to smuggle essential goods into Cuba as a way around trade and economic sanctions imposed by the United States in 1964.

All were convicted of smuggling cocaine to the United States for their own profit; dealing in contraband diamonds, ivory and rare woods, and having links to the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia.

Ochoa, 57, claimed at the trial that he dealt in cocaine to help Cuba’s economy. The general, a comrade of Castro from the early days of the revolution, had been decorated for leading Cuban forces in Africa supporting Angola’s Marxist government.

The trial confirmed, as the United States had said for years, that high- ranking Cuban officers were involved in the drug trade.

Prensa Latina said the Communist Party ordered action against Abrantes and the other nine for ″weakness and cronyism, which caused serious problems to develop at the Interior Ministry.″

It gave no details but indicated they either did not immediately report irregularities or were negligent enough not to notice them.

Citing official sources it did not identify, Notimex said Abrantes and the four others arrested were charged with ″manipulating information of interest to the state, negligence in carrying out their duties, corruption, illegal use of resources and the unlawful appropriation of funds.″

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