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Cubans Defend Death Sentences of Convicted Of Drug Smugglers

July 11, 1989

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Cuban leaders apparently are standing firm in their decision to send a war hero and three other former army officers to the firing squad for drug trafficking despite international pleas for clemency.

″Cuba’s traditional enemies would also criticize us if we don’t shoot them, saying we don’t make an example of those involved in international drug trade,″ said Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, vice president of the Council of State.

The official Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, which carried his comments, also said the Cuban masses support Sunday’s vote by President Fidel Castro and the 28 other members of the council to uphold the death penalty for former Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa.

″It was very painful, but it is a very traitorous crime that must be punished with the maximum penalty,″ the news agency quoted Vilma Espin, president of the Federation of Cuban Women, as saying.

The news agency has not yet said when the sentences would be carried out or whether Castro, who for years angrily denied U.S. charges that Cuba was a way station for drugs, could grant a reprieve.

Pope John Paul II asked Cuban authorities for clemency for Ochoa and the three others, the Vatican said Tuesday.

Ochoa, Col. Antonio de la Guardia, Maj. Armando Padron and Capt. Jorge Martinez were convicted by a court-martial last week of helping smuggle tons of cocaine and shiploads of marijuana into the United States.

Ten other officers were convicted in the case, which also involved smuggling of diamonds, ivory and dollars, and sentenced to terms ranging from 10 to 30 years in prison.

Defense Minister Raul Castro called drugs a capitalist plague and said Cuba must purge itself of ″corrosive conduct.″

It be would better ″for our beloved and beautiful island to sink into the sea like the legendary Atlantis rather than succumb again to capitalism’s corruptions,″ the president’s brother said.

Failing to apply the maximum punishment to Ochoa and his collaborators would be setting ″an ominous precedent of impunity,″ he said.

The arrests and trial constituted the biggest scandal to hit Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power Jan. 1, 1959.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is ″still assessing the dramatic developments that have taken place in Cuba over the last three weeks″ involving the drug scandal.

″If the Cuban government is indeed serious about efforts to combat narcotics, we welcome its contribution. If, on the other hand, traffic continues unimpeded in the wake of the trial of Ochoa and others, then we would question the Cuban government’s commitment to the anti-drug struggle.″

″We’re adopting a wait-and-see attitude to see if the Cuban government’s deeds match its words,″ he said.

Raul Castro said he had given Ochoa broad powers as commander of Cuban troops in Angola in 1987 and 1988 and recalled how Ochoa had invoked those powers to sentence three Cuban soldiers to death for murdering some Angolans.

Ochoa, 57, fought alongside the Castro brothers in Cuba’s rugged mountains during the revolution that overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista. He went on to become a trusted aide who carried out confidential missions for the president.

He was named a Hero of the Republic, one of only five Cuban officers ever so honored, for his field service in Angola and Ethiopia.

All 14 defendants in the case were officers of the Cuban armed forces or held high positions in the security staff of the Interior Ministry. They were stripped of all rank and decorations last month and dishonorably discharged.

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