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Cuba Confirms Drug Links in Arrests of Army Officials

June 17, 1989|DON SHANNON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Cuba acknowledged for the first time Friday the suspected involvement of high-level officials in drug trafficking, and confirmed that an army general and three other senior officers have been arrested on narcotics distribution charges.

Cuban government officials provided no details of the alleged trafficking activities.

But State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler cited the announcement as an encouraging sign that more nations are taking a tougher stance against official drug corruption.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time the Cuban government has admitted involvement of Cuban officials in drug smuggling operations," Tutwiler said.

"We hope that the charges . . . will be investigated and, if found true, prosecuted to the fullest extent possible."

State Department officials declined to comment officially on the Cuban government's motive for publicly announcing the charges, which were first aired on Radio Havana, but several department officials speculated that it could have been intended to blunt sympathy for the suspects.

The chief suspect, army Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, is a well-known and popular figure who commanded the Cuban expeditionary forces in the Angolan civil war.

The U.S. analysts said that publicly linking Ochoa with drugs, which carry a strong stigma in Cuban society, might undercut any concerted support for him among military colleagues and other influential admirers.

In the past, Cuban President Fidel Castro has vehemently denied any role by Cuban government officials in the multibillion-dollar flow of narcotics from Latin America to the United States. That position remained unchanged even after a Florida federal grand jury in November, 1982, indicted a Cuban admiral and three civilian officials on drug-trafficking charges.

In addition to the drug-trafficking charges, the Cuban government announced the arrests of four other officials for official misconduct, the nature of which was not specified. They included Diocles Torralbas, a former general serving as minister of transportation, and Brig. Gen. Patricio de la Guardia Font and his twin brother, Col. Antonio de la Guardia Font, army officers serving in the Ministry of Interior.

Some Cuban exiles in the United States speculated that at least some of the men may have been arrested because they were perceived as disgruntled with economic conditions in the nation and considered possible threats to the regime.

"This may be preventive action because Cuban counterintelligence must have detected signs of activity against the regime," said Rafael del Pino, a former Cuban army general who defected to the United States in 1987.

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