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2 Contras Identified as Cuban Immigrants Say They Trained in Fla.

June 26, 1986

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Two men identified as Cuban immigrants to the United States said Wednesday they were recruited and trained in Florida to fight alongside U.S.-backed Nicaraguan rebels trying to overthrow the Sandinista government here.

The Nicaraguan government presented the men, who said they were captured by Sandinista forces in combat earlier this month, to reporters at a news conference at the Interior Ministry. Raul Cordon, a ministry official, said the two would be tried in Nicaragua.

The news conference took place before the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved President Reagan’s request for $100 million in mostly military aid for the rebels, known as Contras.

The two men said they came to the United States in the 1980 Mariel boatlift that brought thousands of Cubans to Florida in 1980. They said they were unemployed when they were approached in Miami in 1985 by a man who promised them up to $500 to fight in Nicaragua.

One of the men, Mario Eugenio Rejas Lava, said he was recruited by a man who called himself Rene Cordo, a Cuban-American, who told him he would have lots of food in Nicaragua and that victory would be quick because the Sandinista army was demoralized.

″We found the opposite to be true,″ Rejas Lava said. ″There was no food or anything. When we were captured we were out of food and supplies.″

Rejas Lava, 33, said he was trained for a month beginning in June 1985 in a secret camp in the Everglades in south-central Florida.

He said he did not know who financed or was in charge of the operation, but said he did not come into contact with anyone identified as a U.S. official.

Ubaldo Hernandez Perez, the other man, said that while at a training camp in Costa Rica he had met a Cuban-American named Pedro Gil, who told him he was a former CIA agent.

Hernandez Perez said he had been promised $500 to fight in Nicaragua by the same man who had recruited Rejas Lava, but that he had only received $150.

During their time in training and inside Nicaragua they saw about a half- dozen other Cubans among the rebels, they said. Most of the combat, Rejas Lava said, consisted of ambushes by the rebels.

″The Contras fire off four rounds and then run,″ he said. ″That to me is not fighting.″

Rejas Lava said he was flown in an aircraft from Costa Rica to El Salvador, but did not say what he did or who he met there.

Rejas Lava and Hernandez Perez said they had no passports and entered Costa Rica on tourist cards.

The Nicaraguan Defense Ministry said on Tuesday the two men were captured separately in southeastern Nicaragua. A ministry communique said both ″were recruited by the command of the mercenary forces of the American administration.″

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