Military Tribunal Says General Trafficked in Drugs, Ivory, Diamonds
HAVANA (AP) _ A military tribunal recommended Tuesday that one of Cuba’s most highly decorated generals be court-martialed for betraying his country by trafficking in drugs, ivory and diamonds.
The tribunal’s recommendations raised the possibility that Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, one of only five officers ever awarded the Hero of the Republic of Cuba, could face a firing squad.
″One pays for treason with one’s life,″ state television showed Ochoa telling the tribunal, his voice growing husky during a 30-minute statement.
He admitted his guilt but said his smuggling did not indicate discontent with the Cuban government: ″It was to be expected that the enemy would try to use this. But nothing is further from the truth than this having been for political motives.
Broadcast on Tuesday, the statement was made during proceedings Monday.
The tribunal of 47 top-ranking officers issued its recommendations after two days of testimony from witnesses ranging from Defense Minister Raul Castro to officers who said they were part of Ochoa’s smuggling rings.
The military tribunal said Ochoa, decorated for his service as a field commander in Angola in 1987 and 1988, had damaged Cuba’s reputation and threatened its national security.
Cuban officials had said the court-martial proceedings would begin Tuesday, but by late Tuesday there was no word that they had begun.
Raul Castro, brother of President Fidel Castro, testified that Ochoa’s punishment should ″set an example.″ The tribunal recommended that the ″full weight of the law″ be applied because of the ″extreme seriousness of his crimes.″
In Monday’s proceedings, Ochoa, 57, also denied that the Castros or any other top-level Cuban government officials were involved in his drug-running schemes.
″Neither the commander-in-chief (Fidel Castro) nor the (defense) minister, nor the party, nor the armed forces, ever had anything to do with this ... I wanted to make this clear before you,″ Ochoa told the tribunal.
Ochoa said that he had been ashamed of his own actions and recognized the errors of his ways.
″The tribunal of my own conscience is the hardest of all,″ he said.
The witnesses said Ochoa was in league with Colombian drug smugglers and had helped turn Cuba into a Caribbean stop for U.S.-bound cocaine.
The state news agency Prensa Latina said Tuesday that excerpts of the testimony of the witnesses broadcast Monday had ″indignant″ Cubans glued to their television sets.
It said the officers who testified before the tribunal all said the general had persuaded them to raise dollars ″at all costs″ to help the Cuban economy.
In addition to trafficking in cocaine, Ochoa is accused of conducting a thriving black market trade in supplies provided to the Cuban troops he commanded in Angola in 1987 and 1988.
Prensa Latina said he traded fuel, dried fish and beef, weapons, electronics and other supplies for diamonds and dollars.
The witnesses said some of the money he made wound up a Panamanian bank account. Some was used to buy refrigerators and stereos for Ochoa and other officers, they said.
They also said Ochoa trafficked in ivory and precious wood.
Capt. Jorge Martinez Valdez, Ochoa’s assistant, told the tribunal that Ochoa began laundering money with Panamanians and Colombians in 1985.
He said Ochoa had direct contacts with leaders of the Medellin cartel, the world’s largest cocaine-smuggling operation. He said the Colombian drug lords ″thought that we were official representatives of Cuba.″
When they visited Cuba, Ochoa put them in protocol house and placed a Mercedes-Benz at their disposal, he said. During one visit, the Colombians proposed printing dollars in Cuba and even setting up a cocaine laboratory on the Caribbean island, he said.