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Exiles Plotting to Kill Him, Castro Says

Summit: Cuban leader, attending Ibero-American meeting in Panama, says group brought in weapons. Police detain four suspects in alleged scheme.

November 18, 2000|Associated Press

PANAMA CITY — Cuban President Fidel Castro said Friday that a U.S. Cuban exile group is plotting to kill him in Panama, where he is attending an international summit. Police said later that four people had been detained in connection with the alleged plot.

At a news conference at the hotel where he is staying during the 10th Ibero-American summit of Latin American and European leaders, Castro said the Miami-based Cuban-American National Foundation had "sent people to Panama with the purpose of eliminating me physically."

"They are already in Panama and they have introduced weapons and explosives," he said.

After Castro leveled his charges, Panama police detained Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles and three others for questioning in connection with the alleged plot.

Police Chief Carlos Bares said that the four were detained at a local hotel and that there were no guns found in their possession. They can be held 24 hours.

In his comments, Castro claimed that the squad plotting to kill him was directed by Posada, whom he called "a cowardly man totally without scruples." The Cuban-American National Foundation said it has no links to Posada.

Ninoska Perez, a spokeswoman for the Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami, said the group has no one in Panama and that Castro "should get a new story."

"He has accused us of everything in the book. There is no reason why we should have to respond to unfounded accusations," she said. "He is the terrorist. They are accusations without proof. Where are the people he's talking about?"

Castro repeated previous claims that Posada organized the 1976 bombing of a Cubana de Aviacion jetliner that killed 73 people, as well as several other plots against his own life.

Posada was twice acquitted of bombing the Cubana airliner. He did spend nine years in a Venezuelan prison before escaping in 1985.

Castro said Cuban officials would make a formal report to Panamanian authorities.

Panamanian Interior Minister Winston Spadafora said that he had learned of the allegation earlier in the day and that Panamanian intelligence chief Pablo Quintero Luna had been sent to speak with Cuban security about the issue.

He said Castro "has had his advance security in Panama for several months. He has been offered all security and all cooperation."

Castro, 74, veered between the grim and the almost playful as he joked that there had been "about 600" attempts on his life.

A Puerto Rico federal jury acquitted five exiles of plotting to kill Castro last December. The U.S. Coast Guard stopped a yacht near Puerto Rico and found rifles, night-vision goggles and satellite navigation equipment; one of the men said they were heading to kill Castro at the 1997 Ibero-American Summit in Venezuela.

Defense attorneys argued that the men had planned to help Cuban officials to defect and that they needed the weapons for defense. Among those acquitted in that case was a director of the Cuban-American National Foundation.

Castro's statement overshadowed the start of the Ibero-American summit of 19 Latin American countries along with Spain and Portugal.

In brief remarks at his arrival, Castro praised Panama for achieving "full sovereignty" with the December 1999 hand-over of the formerly U.S.-owned Panama Canal and the departure of U.S. troops, who had maintained a presence in the country for 97 years.

With Panama a stronghold of U.S. influence, Washington's least-favorite Latin leader had never visited the country since taking power in 1959, though he made a brief stop here in 1948 on the way to a student conference in Colombia before taking up arms against Cuba's old government.

"Today everything has changed," Castro said after shaking hands with President Mireya Moscoso. "There are no troops shooting on students and the people of Panama own its canal and administer it excellently."

Host of the previous Ibero-American Summit, Castro opened this year's session with a speech about the meeting's topic, the problems of children in Latin America.

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