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Relatives of Cuba bombing suspect insist he’s innocent

September 12, 1997

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ Relatives of a Salvadoran accused of bombing Cuban hotels on Thursday denied Cuban claims the man was an army veteran trained in the United States.

But while relatives insisted that 26-year-old Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon was innocent of Cuban bombing charges, they did not explain how the man had taken four recent trips abroad with only a $100 in his bank account.

``What they say about Raul is false. He did not have anything to do with the army. Everything is a big lie,″ said Yanira Cruz Leon, the detained man’s sister.

Cuba’s Interior Ministry on Wednesday said Cruz Leon had been arrested Sept. 4 after bombing a restaurant, La Bodeguita del Medio, and had confessed to five other bombings that killed one man and wounded three others.

It identified him as a mercenary, saying he admitted to being a Salvadoran army veteran who had received training in the United States in sharpshooting and the use of explosives.

Cruz Leon’s mother, Ester Leon Hernandez, said her son had spent six months in a military school in El Salvador that trains future officers. ``But he was released because he broke his arm,″ she said.

She said he continued his studies at the Military University, a separate institution open to civilians, but did not enter the army after leaving school in 1993. Instead, she said, he went to work for a theatrical promotions company.

Salvadoran Defense Minister Gen. Jaime Guzman Morales said Cruz Leon entered the nation’s military school in January 1991 and dropped out in December of that year ``for lack of a military vocation.″

He could never have specialized in handling explosives at the school, the defense minister said.

A spokesman for the Salvadoran army, Salvador Girealt, said the military was checking to see if Cruz Leon had been in the army, but the search was slowed by handwritten records.

Yanira Cruz Leon, denying claims his brother had been paid to plant bombs, said he had only about $100 in his bank account.

Leon Hernandez said her son told her he had met Cubans accompanying the Mexico-based Suarez Circus and accompanied them to Guatemala and later to Cuba. She said he had visited there in early August.

She also denied Cuban claims he had received military training in the United States, saying he had never visited the country and ``did not even have a visa to go there.″

But Salvadoran immigration officials showed The Associated Press registries indicating that Cruz had entered El Salvador on July 9 from Costa Rica, had apparently left again and returned on July 14 from Los Angeles.

Salvadoran President Armando Calderon Sol on Thursday denied the Cuban Interior Ministry’s claim that a ``network of mercenaries″ closely linked to ``counter-revolutionary groups in Miami″ was operating out of his country.

``The government laments the irresponsible declarations of ideological politicians who are trying to damage the country,″ said a statement issued by the president’s office in San Salvador.

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