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(3:54) A look at how the Cuban military helped drug traffickers do their business, and how Fidel Castro may have given the orders.
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Original Air Date: February 5, 1991
Written, Produced, and Directed by Stephanie Tepper and William Cran
ANNOUNCER:
In Havana last fall, Fidel Castro boasted that there was hardly any country less hospitable to drug trafficking than Cuba. But tonight, through DEA surveillance tapes and interviews with former Cuban officials and drug-runners, FRONTLINE investigates how Castro used drug smuggling as a political weapon.

RACHEL EHRENFELD, Author, "Narco-Terrorism":
The Cubans will help them to transfer drugs to the United States and in return, bring arms to the communist insurgencies that the Cubans were supporting in Latin America.

ANNOUNCER: Last year, in a drug-smuggling show trial, Castro betrayed two of his closest associates and sentenced them to death.

ROGER FONTAINE, Adviser, National Security Council, 1981-1983:
If he is willing to jettison his closest friends, who's safe in Cuba? And I think that has very serious implications for the regime and himself.

ANNOUNCER: How did drugs corrupt Castro's revolution? Tonight on FRONTLINE, "Cuba and Cocaine."

NARRATOR:
Off the coast of Florida, U.S. Customs practice tracking a suspect plane. Small aircraft like this are the workhorses of the Colombian cocaine trade. The Customs plane sneaks in behind the bandit's tail, where he can't be seen, and waits for him to make the drop. This is the story of how, for 10 years, part of this narcotics traffic has passed through Cuba.

Since the triumph of his revolution over 30 years ago, Fidel Castro has laid claim to a higher morality. Castro says drugs, like gambling and prostitution, have been stamped out in Cuba. But abroad it now appears that Castro may have allowed drugs to be used as a weapon in his war against Yankee imperialism.

Little Havana, Miami: Hard evidence that Cuba was involved in the drug trade came to light here. In 1987, agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency were staking out this corner. Two gangs were under surveillance-the Ceballoses from Colombia and a family of Cuban-Americans called Ruiz.

THOMAS MULVIHILL, Assistant U.S. Attorney:
Unbeknownst to either the Ceballos or the Ruiz organization, individuals had infiltrated both of those organizations and by taping their phone conversations, wearing body wires and also setting up a video surveillance operation, they were able to get the Ruizes and the Ceballoses discussing their operation through Cuba.

1st GANG MEMBER:
A different runway in Colombia but the same runway in Cuba?

2nd GANG MEMBER:
Yeah.

1st GANG MEMBER:
Yeah?

2nd GANG MEMBER:
Yeah.

1st GANG MEMBER:
The Cubans?

2nd GANG MEMBER:
Listen, we're going on Wednesday.

Mr. MULVIHILL:
The difference in the Ruiz and the Ceballos case from what you commonly see as far as narcotics trafficking was the ability to transship through Cuba, which would be the most ideal place for a narcotics trafficker to operate in.

NARRATOR:
The man who set up the deal that made transshipments through Cuba possible was Reinaldo Ruiz. He could do this because he had connections inside the Cuban government.

1st GANG MEMBER:
Castro couldn't let something like that leak out.

2nd GANG MEMBER:
Yeah.

1st GANG MEMBER:
Because then they're going to really come down on Cuba.

2nd GANG MEMBER:
Anyway, who's going to believe the smuggler? You know what I mean? Think about it.

1st GANG MEMBER:
I thought you've got to have connections.

Mr. MULVIHILL:
Reinaldo Ruiz had relatives and connections in the Cuban government to guarantee the security of the shipments when they moved through Cuba, so they worked with Reinaldo Ruiz to move several of their shipments through the island of Cuba.

NARRATOR:
Until he died of a heart attack on New Year's Eve, Reinaldo Ruiz had been serving a 17-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. He thought the sentence too harsh. To get it reduced, he'd offered U.S. authorities information on five other drug smugglers who, like him, had Cuban connections.

REINALDO RUIZ, Convicted Narcotics Trafficker:
Every time that I went over there, I was completely sure that I was a 100 percent backing, all the way to the top, otherwise I never, ever touch a thing out there.

When you go to a place, an office, and everything is resolved, everything is taken care and people play with cocaine like it was mangoes and oranges or whatever, you know-I mean, you know that everything is controlled.

NARRATOR:
Everything may have been under control in Cuba, but in Miami a camera was recording as Reinaldo Ruiz and his son Ruben plotted how to refuel a drug plane in Cuba.

REINALDO RUIZ:
Well, let me tell you something. How about if I get permission to refuel down there in Cuba?

RUBEN RUIZ:
Son of a bitch, I was going to ask you that right now.

GANG MEMBER:
Yes, that would be the best.

RUBEN RUIZ:
That would be the best.

GANG MEMBER:
That would be best. That would be best.

NARRATOR:
This is how Reinaldo set up the drug run. First, a boat crossed the Florida straits. It made landfall on the Cuban coast at a port called Varadero, not far from this lighthouse. Apparently, everything had been arranged in advance. Ruiz says he was expected by a Cuban coast guard colonel.

INTERVIEWER:
Colonel who?

REINALDO RUIZ:
Pardo.

INTERVIEWER:
And, who was he?

REINALDO RUIZ:
The chief of command of the naval operations in Varadero.

INTERVIEWER:
And he knew about your operation?

REINALDO RUIZ:
He was informed that I was going to arrive, yes.

NARRATOR:
Behind the main harbor at Varadero is a secluded creek. The expensive pleasure boats moored here include the high speed cigarette boats beloved of drug smugglers. A small detachment of the Cuban coast guard keeps permanent watch over these craft.

INTERVIEWER:
Did the coast guard help you when you arrived in Cuba?

REINALDO RUIZ:
Yes.

INTERVIEWER:
How? What did they do?

REINALDO RUIZ:
Well, they received me, put the boat in a place, in a safe place, you know, so it cannot be found, take me to shore and make me contact with Padrone, Miguel or Eduardo, if he was there at that time.

NARRATOR:
Meanwhile, Reinaldo's son Ruben was to collect the cocaine in Colombia and fly it to Cuba. His Cuban contacts had given him a special call sign to use as he approached Cuban airspace.

REINALDO RUIZ:
He is to have a number and that number authorized him to landing.

INTERVIEWER:
And how did he use the number? What exactly did you do?

REINALDO RUIZ:
Well, the, Cuba would ask for-you know, "This is AQ7 Santa Clara," whatever. "OK, this is UPI 102." "OK, UPI 102. Keep going." That's it. No problem.

NARRATOR:
Ruiz says a Cuban air force colonel had cleared Ruben to fly through military airspace.

REINALDO RUIZ:
He told him to fly all the way over the land. My son told me, "Well, I am crossing all the western part of Cuba." "That doesn't matter. Don't worry about it. Nobody will hurt you. The air force is at your service tomorrow."

NARRATOR:
On the surveillance tapes, Ruben is heard bragging about the help he got from the Cuban air force.

RUBEN RUIZ:
Let me tell you something. This is something. I'm not lying to you. I've flown to places in Cuba that nobody does. I'm talking military runways. I'm talking camouflaged MiG-20's, MiG23's, OK?

NARRATOR:
Ruiz says when Ruben landed at Varadero, it was all out in the open. For the airport officials, it seems, this was routine.

REINALDO RUIZ:
When the plane landed and they just move it to one wing of the airport, unload it. They didn't pretend nothing. They didn't pretend nothing to the authorities. They fill up the gasoline and then they went over there to the cabin that we rented, enjoy of a bath, have a nice meal, rest. Next following morning, boom, boom, boom and that's it.

NARRATOR:
Like other drug smugglers, Ruben was given the red carpet treatment.

RUBEN RUIZ:
And you sit on a table about half the size of this, your office here, where you've got big pork legs, this big, and you've got big steaks, this big, and you've got big things, this big, of rice for about

seven or eight guys, OK? Nobody eats that way over there.

NARRATOR:
While Ruben was enjoying lunch, Ruiz says armed Cuban personnel were unloading the drugs.

INTERVIEWER:
How did they get the drugs from the airport to the seaport?

REINALDO RUIZ:
Through the airport to the seaport, they used to have a van that they used in the transportation of those things.

INTERVIEWER:
Who provided the van?

REINALDO RUIZ:
The department, of course.

INTERVIEWER:
The department of the ministry of the interior?

REINALDO RUIZ:
Yeah. They put the merchandise on board and that was it.

NARRATOR:
Once the drugs were on board, Ruiz says a Cuban coast guard cutter escorted their boat out to sea and after scanning the Gulf with its radar, gave the all clear.

RUBEN RUIZ:
Would you believe me when I tell you something? You know the big military coast guard boats, the ones that are equipped with all the radars and everything? Cuba's got that and they scan the whole area out, man. And they tell you, "Go this way," "go that way," you know?

NARRATOR:
Cuba had been linked to drug smuggling before, but had always dismissed the accusations as American propaganda. But after the U.S. Coast Guard seized one of his boats in 1988, Ruiz was arrested. It was now impossible for Cuba to brush aside the evidence of the surveillance tapes and the political implications of what was said on them.

1st GANG MEMBER:
He says the money from his last trip that was paid is in Fidel's drawer!

2nd GANG MEMBER:
Who?

1st GANG MEMBER:
Fidel Castro, damn it! Don't you know who Fidel is?

2nd GANG MEMBER:
Oh. Oh.

NARRATOR:
In Havana, the government had to be seen to act. Ruiz's co-conspirators were rounded up and Cuba mounted the biggest state trial in 30 years. The entire trial was videotaped and after a two-day delay for editing, was broadcast nightly on Cuban TV. It is often referred to as the Ochoa Trial because the most prominent defendant was Cuba's most successful general, Arnaldo Ochoa. Ochoa's court martial and the subsequent trial certainly gave the appearance that Cuba was cracking down on drugs. Ten of the accused were jailed for up to 30 years. Ochoa and three others faced the firing squad. The state prosecutor was Juan Escalona.

JUAN ESCALONA, former Minister of Justice:
[through interpreter] Despite all our efforts, this was the first time we were able to detect any evidence that Cuban personalities or Cuban authorities were linked to drug-trafficking. It's something we've been accused of for many years. However, we are convinced it was part of a campaign of disinformation meant to discredit the Cuban revolution.

NARRATOR:
After the court martial had stripped Ochoa of his medals and rank, the main trial began, but the conduct of the trial raises many questions, For example, why was Ochoa sentenced to death when there was no evidence he smuggled drugs, only that he conspired to attempt it? Why did his 13 fellow defendants all waive their right to proper legal representation, make tearful confessions and beg the court for the maximum sentence? Why were foreign observers banned by the court?

ROGER FONTAINE, Adviser, National Security Council, 1981-1983:
The show trials in Havana lumped two people together-Tony de la Guardia and Arnaldo Ochoa. In fact Arnaldo Ochoa, who was a hero of the revolution and a hero of Cuba, a three-star general, a genuine military hero, had no involvement in drugs. The trial was really about Tony de la Guardia and his involvement in drugs. No question he was. He admitted it. He only thought that he had been given orders from Fidel to do exactly that.

NARRATOR:
Colonel Tony de la Guardia had been a high-flying intelligence officer. The question that goes to the heart of the trial was whether he and his co-defendants had smuggled drugs as a form of covert action or, as the state prosecutor alleged, were simply corrupt officials. The most dramatic moment of the trial came when one of the accused, Miguel Ruiz Poo, testified. Miguel, a distant cousin of the drug smuggler Reinaldo Ruiz, had been the government official who had made Reinaldo's Cuban connection possible. The court heard Miguel claim that Cuba's cocaine connection was approved at the top. If true, this could have diminished his culpability, but none of the military officers who were supposed to represent the accused made any attempt to develop this line of defense. Under cross-examination, Miguel Ruiz would become almost incoherent with fear.

MIGUEL RUIZ:
[through interpreter] Because everything I do, my boss checks at the highest level. This is what Martinez said. One day, I also heard Eduardo saying in a corridor, "Chico, I have the impression that this is at the highest level, that this is at the highest level."

NARRATOR:
At this point the court adjourned while Ruiz received medical attention. Later witnesses contradicted his story and the prosecution asserted that the conspiracy was limited to Tony de la Guardia and his ring

Mr. ESCALONA:
[through interpreter] The only time we had any evidence that enabled us to detect this problem was last year and not before because the previous accusations were ridiculous. They've also accused Fidel Castro of being the ring-leader of drug-trafficking in Cuba when Fidel Castro is our leader, our director, our guide.

NARRATOR:
Since the trial, Castro has insisted that Tony de la Guardia was the beginning and end of Cuba's involvement in drugs. What began in late 1986, he says, was eliminated in 1989. "When it comes to narcotics trafficking, Cuba is clean."

FIDEL CASTRO:
[through interpreter] You will surely have noted that in the world, no country is less attractive than ours to international narco-traffickers. Allow me to take this opportunity to reiterate Cuba's total readiness to cooperate in all serious and consistent efforts in the struggle against drug-trafficking.

NARRATOR:
But here in South Florida, the drug-busting pilots and investigators of U.S. Customs believe that Cuba's involvement with drugs goes way back.

ROBERT KAMMER, U.S. Customs Special Agent:
There was certainly indications of Cuban involvement way before 1987. Going back into the early '80s, there were cases involving the Cubans involved in drug-trafficking into the U.S.

CONTROLLER:
Target at 75 Homestead 120. Ten-four.

NARRATOR:
For Cuba, geography is destiny. The drug planes from Colombia must cross the Caribbean to reach Florida. The most direct route to the U.S. is over Cuba. This short cut meant that small planes could fill up with drugs and not waste valuable space on extra fuel. In the early '80s, U.S. patrol planes with their infrared cameras were tracking drug planes bound for the Bahamas.

PILOT:
-2,700 feet in front of us, 8 knots closure. Feet wet. I've got a boat going fast in the water!

NARRATOR:
They began to notice how some planes, like this one, would duck into Cuban air space on their way to the drop. The traffic grew.

PILOT:
Feet dry, 3,000 feet in front of us, 13 knots closure. He's right on the nose. Drop! Drop! Drop!

NARRATOR:
Suspicion hardened into certainty.

PILOT:
Still dropping! Still dropping!

Mr. KAMMER:
I believe, based on just experience and what I've seen, that it is very difficult to assume that the Cubans don't know what's going on. It's just very, very difficult because flight after flight after flight, overflying, dropping, air drop after air drop after air drop inside the Cuban territorial waters.

NARRATOR:
In Washington a Senate subcommittee on narcotics traffic was hearing the same story.

Sen. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA):
Were you also involved in the transshipment of narcotics through Cuba?

GEORGE MORALES, Convicted Narcotics Trafficker:
Yes.

Sen. KERRY:
And what period of time did you transship narcotics through Cuba?

Mr. MORALES:
[through Interpreter] Since 1980, '81 until 1985, '86.

NARRATOR:
The chief investigator for the Senate committee was Jack Blum.

JACK BLUM, Special Counsel, Senate, 1987-1989:
Well, the way this turned up was, we interviewed large numbers of people who were drug smugglers and these guys would be telling us about various things they'd done all over Central America-Panama, dealing in Costa Rica, dealings with the contrast And a number of them, without us prompting or asking, would then say, "And by the way, would you like to hear about our arrangements with Cuba," and of course we did like to hear about those arrangements.

NARRATOR:
Blum's star witness was a former aide to Panama's General Noriega. Jose Blandon attended meetings in Cuba with Fidel Castro and brought photographs to prove it. Blandon claims that the Cubans were involved in drug-trafficking and that Castro's motives were political.

JOSE BLANDON, former Consul General, Panama:
[through interpreter] Fidel Castro's theory with regard to this aspect is that Colombia's political world-that if you want to have an influence on Colombia's political world, you have to have an influence on the drug-trafficking world, too.

NARRATOR:
Blandon accused Cuba of running drugs through Nicaragua and Panama as well as Colombia.

Mr. BLANDON:
[through interpreter] In the case of Colombia, there is a link between drug-trafficking and the guerrilla movement. And part of the coordination movement is done by the Latin American department of the Communist Party of Cuba.

NARRATOR:
Cuba's America Department is not part of the ministry of foreign relations but a separate entity under the direct control of Fidel Castro. Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld of New York University is an acknowledged expert on the Cuban government's involvement with narcotics and the part played by its Department of America.

RACHEL EHRENFELD, Author, "Narco-Terrorism":
In 1974, the Department of the America was created and Manuel Pinero Losada was heading it. Manuel Pineiro Losada is good friend of Fidel Castro. They go back to the revolution. He's very trusted by Fidel, therefore he was assigned to head this new department. This department is responsible for the implementation of the covert Cuban foreign policy objectives.

NARRATOR:
The department's main objective was to foment revolution. This brought it to the attention of the White House and the National Security Council where, in the early '80s, Roger Fontaine was a Latin American analyst.

Mr. FONTAINE:
It really does the priority missions that Fidel has set out and since 1974, those priority missions have been in Central America, North and South America, destabilize, hopefully overthrow the governments in the region.

NARRATOR:
In the mid-'70s, Castro saw Colombia as ripe for revolution and the Department of America sent one of its top agents to Bogota. His name was Fernando Ravelo Renedo and in 1975 he was Cuba's ambassador to Colombia.

Mr. FONTAINE:
He was a facilitator, a man who knew how to use cut-outs, knew how to use false documents, how to use clandestine air strips and all the rest.

INTERVIEWER:
Quite the ambassador.

Mr. FONTAINE:
An operator. An operator. I mean, a man who's, yes, an ambassador, used the diplomatic as a front, as a shield, but as a very well-trained officer, a very experienced officer in clandestine, secret operations.

NARRATOR:
Colombia's M-19 guerrillas got their weapons and training from Cuba. Ravelo apparently encouraged them to use narcotics to finance their revolution and promised them help.

Ms. EHRENFELD:
The Cubans will help them to transfer drugs to the United States. They will provide them with safe haven, with fuel, with radar and everything else and in return, the same boats will bring arms to the insurgencies, the communist insurgencies that the Cubans were supporting in Latin America, in this case specifically the M-19 in Colombia.

NARRATOR:
Ravelo was the link between the guerrillas and the traffickers. One night in 1979, the ambassador attended a rather wild party in a penthouse at the Bogota Hilton. The man who'd laid on the champagne, the caviar and the girls was a Colombian lawyer called Johnny Crump. Today Crump lives in hiding in the U.S.A. Back then, he was one of Colombia's more successful drug smugglers. A number of other traffickers attended the party, among them Crump's partner Jaime Guillot. Together Crump and Lara approached Ravelo and teased him about what a perfect place Cuba would be for refueling drug planes.

JOHNNY CRUMP, Convicted Narcotics Trafficker:
You know that Jaime asked the question like a joke, but at the same time was some kind of a way to open the conversation.

INTERVIEWER:
And how did Ravelo respond when Jaime made his little joke?

Mr. CRUMP:
Like a joke, too, but opening the doors said, "Yeah, this is a good idea. Why don't we talk about?"

INTERVIEWER:
He didn't leave the party?

Mr. CRUMP:
No, no, no. No, he stay in the party.

NARRATOR:
A few days later, Crump met Ravelo again. The ambassador had his deputy with him, another agent of the America Department called Gonzalo Bassols. This photograph shows the three of them together and this time, according to Crump, the talk was strictly business.

Mr. CRUMP:
We make an arrangement with Fernando Ravelo to send a boat loaded with drugs to Cuba waters. And the boat was supposed to stay in Cuba waters for whatever need-one week, three, four, five days-till the moment that Jaime have time to send speed boat from Miami to pick the merchandise in his boat and send it back, the speedboat, to Miami.

INTERVIEWER:
And how would the Cubans help this boat?

Mr. CRUMP:
He will clear, not only clear, the Coast Guard would give protection to the boat.

INTERVIEWER:
The coast guard would give protection?

Mr. CRUMP:
To the boat, right.

NARRATOR:
Johnny Crump and Ambassador Ravelo met again in Panama. Crump says they flew on to Havana to finalize arrangements for the drug shipment.

Mr. CRUMP:
We took the plane from Panama to Havana and when we landed in Havana, I never go through customs, through anything. They never checked my passport. I just went from the plane to a Cuban government car that was waiting for us in the airport. I mean, there's no way that you can go to any country with no passport, with nothing like that, landing from another country in an international airport and have a car waiting for you right there in the field. It has to be with the OK of that government, that country.

NARRATOR:
In Cuba, Crump says he stayed at the Havana Libre where, for him, everything was free.

Mr. CRUMP:
Everything was paid by the Cuban government. The hotel, you had to sign, like, you are a guest from the Cuban government because they don't let me pay for the hotel.

NARRATOR:
Every day, a government car would drive Crump to a series of official engagements. Crump says the most important man he met was Rene Rodriguez Cruz, a member of Cuba's Central Committee and a friend of Fidel Castro.

Mr. CRUMP:
That give me more confidence and trust that all the Cuban government was approving the operation.

NARRATOR:
The Cubans were generous hosts. Crump was wined and dined at government expense. He kept waiting for someone to ask for a bribe, but they never did.

Mr. CRUMP:
Nobody was asking for money. Everything was to build some kind of a relationship, not to get money, for one person in particular.

INTERVIEWER:
You weren't paying bribes?

Mr. CRUMP:
Right. I never paid any money to anybody in Cuba and they never asked me for nothing.

NARRATOR:
But there were problems. The drug boat was delayed. A nervous Crump sought reassurance.

Mr. CRUMP:
Fernando Ravelo told me that don't worry, that the north side of Cuba was clear for the boat to stay there and load the drugs and everything. And Fernando told me three or four times that everything was OK, that he already clear everything over there with the Cuban navy and coast guard.

NARRATOR:
When Crump's boat did come in it was met by a navy ship with a Cuban admiral on board. Aldo Santamaria's name would become well known to former U.S. attorney Dick Gregorie.

DICK GREGORIE, Asst. U.S Attorney, 1982-1989:
It was essentially his navy ships which were protecting the dope ship that was coming through Cuba. Without his cooperation, of course, this safe haven for the drug boats was impossible.

NARRATOR:
Dick Gregorie was the prosecutor when Johnny Crump was finally arrested and tried in this Miami courthouse. At the trial, Gregorie indicted no less than four high Cuban officials for drug trafficking.

Mr. GREGORIE:
We charged Santamaria Cuadrado, the vice admiral of the Cuban navy, Rene Rodriguez Cruz, who was a high-level communist minister, Ravelo Renedo, who was the Cuban ambassador to Colombia and we charged a man named Bassols, who was Ravelo Renedo's assistant.

NARRATOR:
In Havana, they dismissed the whole affair as U.S. propaganda. Ravelo Renedo and Bassols were appointed ambassadors to Nicaragua and Panama, and Admiral Santamaria's role has never been investigated.

Mr. ESCALONA:
[through interpreter] In this case, there was no need to investigate the Cuban naval commander because the honor of Admiral Aldo Santamaria is beyond questions. Besides, the whole thing is a complete impossibility. It would have involved ships and sailors from the navy and that's something we would have known about immediately.

Mr. GREGORIE:
The Cuban government to my knowledge did nothing that changed the course of trafficking by the drug traffickers coming out of South America. For the most part, planes and boats were still ducking into Cuban air and sea space to protect their shipments and to avoid U.S. interdiction.

NARRATOR:
By 1978, another government department was becoming involved with narcotics. This is the ministry of the interior, headquarters of Cuban intelligence. One of its top operatives was Colonel Tony de la Guardia. According to one historian who's made a special study of Cuba's drug scandal, de la Guardia was a close friend of Fidel Castro.

ENRIQUE BALOYRA, Professor, University of Miami:
If he ever loved the company of a person or of a type of person, Tony de la Guardia was that type, like a favorite son, someone who could come into a room, Fidel would be talking to someone else, and Tony would just barge in, walk straight to the kitchen, open the fridge, pour himself a glass of milk, come, sit in the sofa, drink his milk, observe what was going on, and then lean on the sofa and fall asleep. The most comparable standard we have is possibly the relationship between Ronald Reagan and Oliver North.

NARRATOR:
Castro's Oliver North could be found in a heavily guarded street just behind the Soviet embassy compound. Tony de la Guardia handled special operations and had his own department.

Mr. FONTAINE:
It used to be called the Z Department within MININT and was changed at some time for some reason to MC, but it was run by Tony de la Guardia and they were tasked to, in imaginative and often illegal ways, to raise badly needed hard currency for Cuba and the Castro regime.

NARRATOR:
Tony de la Guardia ran many of his operations through Panama. To circumvent the U.S. trade embargo, Cuba was shipping essential goods through Panama. Tony de la Guardia decided to use this trade route for more exotic purposes. A former intelligence officer now in exile, Manuel de Beunza was familiar with Department MC's operations.

MANUEL de BEUNZA, Cuban Intelligence Officer:
[through interpreter] The function of the department was to create private companies in different parts of the world that officially didn't belong to Cuba but actually were totally Cuban. Through these companies, they broke the blockade. They were involved in illegal businesses like false passports and drug deals and sales, et cetera.

NARRATOR:
Tony de la Guardia used Panama's relaxed business laws to establish scores of paper companies. These disguised the highly lucrative state-approved smuggling operation, which was being mounted by Department MC.

Mr. ESCALONA:
[through interpreter] This group was created and operated over a number of years to obtain certain spare parts, accessories, components and computer systems that enabled us to make progress in certain areas of our development. Much of this equipment came on speed boats from the United States to Cuba.

NARRATOR:
James Herring was one of those who skippered highspeed boats across the Florida straits. Though he says he never smuggled drugs, his business literature ["Everything Goes, Inc."] left no doubt that he was an adventurer. On one of his trips, he took these snapshots. This is his boat. This is one of his crew. This is some of the high-tech goods he was running into Cuba. And this is the Cuban launch which met him outside Varadero.

JAMES HERRING, Businessman:
When I would go into Varadero with boatloads of equipment, we would be received by marked vessels that the Cuban navy, so to speak, utilized, their military gunboats. They would escort us into the gunboat dockage there at Varadero. From there they would offload. We would stay as long as we felt necessary to refuel us, wined and dined us. And when we were ready to return to the Keys, they would take and escort us out.

NARRATOR:
Herring started running fast boats in and out of Cuba in 1982. He soon noticed that DGI intelligence agents were handling narcotics and this was apparently standard operating procedure.

Mr. HERRING:
On occasions, they would even offer drugs in lieu of the cash. The DGI had the availability of enormous amounts of drugs that they had warehoused through seizures that they had made in their country on drug operations that weren't paying protection for their air space or their waterways. So they had a readily available amount of drugs in the form of cocaine, Qualudes and marijuana. I was even offered at one point in time as much as one kilo for any $1,000 worth of services. A kilo being worth $25,000 wholesale, that would have been a tremendous incentive to take the drugs above the cash.

NARRATOR:
By the early 1980s, the cocaine being flown across the Caribbean was worth billions. Colombian smugglers bought whole islands like Norman's Key in the Bahamas. This was one of their landing strips. But Cuba could offer certain advantages, not least of them more reliable landing facilities, and that's how Cuba began to cash in on the drug trade.

Ms. EHRENFELD:
They were paid for their services. They provided safe haven. They provided passports. They provided fuel. They provided radar services and escorts of boats. And for that, they were paid. In addition, they were taking commission from each shipment of drugs that went through Cuba.

NARRATOR:
Cuba allowed several major drug smugglers to hide out on the island. In 1982, one of them set up home here at the Marina Hemingway. Though Robert Vesco was indicted in 1989 for smuggling over a ton of cocaine through Cuba, he is still living there. James Herring once worked for Vesco.

Mr. HERRING:
Robert Vesco was treated like royalty in Cuba. He was put up in a very nice home there in the marina area, had a place for his boat out back. He had all the luxuries of home.

Mr. de BEUNZA:
[through interpreter] I've seen Robert Vesco in House Number Four which was given to him by Fidel and I've seen him on Fidel Castro's own yacht, the Yarama. They were fishing together.

INTERVIEWER:
You saw him on Fidel's yacht?

Mr. de BEUNZA:
[through interpreter] Yes, I have seen him personally.

Mr. HERRING:
Basically, Vesco was Fidel Castro's procurer. He was paying his dues to the Cuban government for his asylum there and in doing so, he was willing to procure anything that they needed, get involved in any type of operation that needed to be.

Mr. BLUM:
There's no question that when Vesco was living in Cuba, he was engaging in narcotics trafficking, that there were drugs coming to Vesco, and that he was then transshipping those drugs to the United States.

NARRATOR:
Vesco arranged for one of his business associates to visit Cuba. This is Carlos Lehder, a founding member of the Medellin Cartel. Today he's in a U.S. penitentiary serving a sentence of life plus 135 years. Because his case is under appeal, Lehder declined to discuss any drug business he may have done in Cuba, but he does confirm that he went there and that his visit was approved at a very high level.

CARLOS LEHDER-RIVAS, Convicted Narcotics Trafficker:
Without the permission of Fidel, I could have never gone into Cuba.

INTERVIEWER:
So Fidel Castro gave you permission to enter Cuba?

Mr. LEHDER:
He gave permission to the authorities so I can go into Cuba and meet with Bob.

INTERVIEWER:
And you think Vesco requested that?

Mr. LEHDER:
The permission was requested by Bob, yeah, by Vesco.

NARRATOR:
One of Lehder's own pilots has testified that he went to Cuba to arrange drug overflights. Lehder will only admit that in Havana he met Robert Vesco and Tony de la Guardia and that at the end of his stay, he left his usual going-away present-a plane.

INTERVIEWER:
Now, you gave a plane to the Cubans?

Mr. LEHDER:
Right. I did.

INTERVIEWER:
Why?

Mr. LEHDER:
It was suggested by Bob and I felt-I felt that-that since I was in the airplane business, that was something that I could give and that is generally what I gave away to-to-to governments or to people that have been extra kind to me.

NARRATOR:
By the time Carlos Lehder visited Havana, Cuba had been offering facilities to smugglers for almost four years. But there is also evidence that Cuba and even Castro himself was beginning to play a more active role in the drug trade. The former intelligence officer Manuel de Beunza recalls a meeting with Fidel Castro. He says his own boss, Cuba's intelligence chief, General Jose Abrantes, was there and that drugs were on the agenda.

Mr. de BEUNZA:
[through interpreter] I took part in a meeting at which Fidel Castro ordered the creation of companies that were to be involved in drug dealing. There were others there, like Osmany Cienfuegos, Tony de la Guardia, Jose Abrantes.

NARRATOR:
In Panama, FRONTLINE traced two of the businesses named by de Beunza. One of them was a shipping form called Happy Line. The other was a trading concern called Mercurio.

INTERVIEWER:
You say that Castro ordered Happy Line be established. Now, how do you know Fidel Castro personally ordered that?

Mr. de BEUNZA:
[through interpreter] Because I was present. I know Fidel Castro and I was at the meeting where the company was set up.

INTERVIEWER:
You were personally there in the room?

Mr. de BEUNZA:
That's right.

INTERVIEWER:
What did you hear him say?

Mr. de BEUNZA:
[through interpreter] I already explained to you that he didn't just say it. He ordered the creation of these companies -Happy Line, Agua Mar Shipping Company and Mercurio-with the specific aim of their getting involved in drug trafficking. Mercurio was the buyer and the negotiator and Happy Line and Agua Mar Shipping, the companies that owned ships with Panamanian flags and with Cuban crews with fake Panamanian passports. The trafficked in the Caribbean and the south of Cuba and they also rendezvoused with Colombian ships. The merchandise, the cocaine, is handed over and taken to Cuba to the military port of Cienfuegos and Barlovento.

NARRATOR:
Another former intelligence officer who corroborates this story is Juan Antonio Rodriguez. He'd worked in counterintelligence for over 20 years and used to exchange news with Tony de la Guardia and others in Department MC.

JUAN ANTONIO RODRIGUEZ MENIER, Cuban Intelligence Officer:
[through interpreter] They talked to me because we are friends from way back. Me and Tony de la Guardia go back 30 years. My friendship with Rolando Castenada goes back 45 years. We all grew up together in the same neighborhood.

[in English] Both grow up in the same block, you know? It's not because they are talking with somebody about that. No, no. It's because I belong to the inside group, a very close group of friends. That is the point. And I talk with them about this business, and so on.

NARRATOR:
Talk about the drug business was a regular part of the lunchtime gossip that Rodriguez shared with Tony de la Guardia at the Centro Vasco Restaurant, and this is where he heard about a significant shift in Cuba's drug policy.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ:
[through interpreter] They have had four years working in drugs, so they know more or less who the producers are and the distributors, et cetera, et cetera. They are convinced that they can get into the market as sellers. So who do they speak to? Abrantes. And he says, 'Well, I will talk to Fidel," and so on. And it is approved by Fidel. So they begin to deal directly, to buy and sell, buy and sell, as well as providing facilities, because they don't cut out the drug dealers. No, what they do is operate it where the drug dealers can't. It's like a Mafia family. Fidel became a family but without harming the interests of other families. That's why Carlos Lehder was in Cuba. He was there for about six months. Carlos Lehder was a famous narco-trafficker, et cetera, et cetera.

NARRATOR:
Though it's not clear how much business Cuba was doing in its own right, by the mid-'80s the U.S. Coast Guard was detecting a dramatic increase in drug activity off the Cuban coast.

JEFF KARONIS, Lt. Commander, U.S. Coast Guard:
We would observe in the middle of the day, an air drop going on inside Cuban waters. We were observing from outside, in international waters. The scenario would be for a small twin-engine airplane with maybe 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of cocaine, fly over Cuba, drop the drugs to a predesignated rendezvous point to several boats, usually what we call "fast boats," high-powered boats that are capable of 40 to 60 knots, sometimes. And then it would exit back down off Cuba and many times it would be under the eyes or at least a Cuban military vessel would be in the immediate vicinity, right on scene with them.

NARRATOR:
It became so blatant, the drugs were dropped in broad daylight within sight of the Las Americas Restaurant, one of Cuba's top tourist attractions. The volume was so high that in a 12-month period U.S. law enforcement collected intelligence on 64 incidents. From these, a pattern begins to emerge. Cuba's coast guard directed most yachts and fast boats to these six harbors. The navy allowed the larger drug ships to dock in six bigger ports. The air force had responsibility for light planes, which landed at Varadero. Air force general Rafael del Pino is the most senior officer to defect from Cuba.

General RAFAEL del PINO, Cuban Air Force:
[Defected, May 28, 1987] The permission to overfly Cuba have to come from the ministry of defense.

NARRATOR:
The minister of defense is Raul Castro, Fidel's brother.

Gen. del PINO:
Several times I received orders from Raul Castro's office and also from General Abrantes's office to let the airplane cross over Cuba.

INTERVIEWER:
Now, what kind of orders did you get?

Gen. del PINO:
Just, "Tomorrow at 14 Zulu is gonna to fly an airplane like this, this, two engines, and just let it fly."

NARRATOR:
The planes often flew through some of the most restricted airspace in the country.

Gen. del PINO:
In the western part of Cuba, we have 19 SAM missile sites and we have hundreds of radars and we have a regiment of MiG-23 interceptors. And it is completely impossible that a small airplane fly from Colombia to the United States without the knowledge and the permission of the Cuban authority.

NARRATOR:
According to del Pino, the military top brass assumed drugs were part of state policy. Officers even argued about the rights and wrongs of it.

Gen. del PINO:
Everybody knew there that they were getting in this business. Some of them were against and some were pro. Some say that that was a dirty game and some of them say, 'Well, in this kind of war against the imperialists, we can use all our tricks and the Maximum Leader knows the weak part of the United States and this is the way to make them weaker." In Cuba, more than the other totalitarian countries, nothing moves without the knowledge of Fidel Castro.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ:
Nobody can do that or think over because it's a big problem with Fidel if Fidel don't like it. You understand the point? Nobody take the risk, OK?

Mr. de BEUNZA:
[through interpreter] Because it's impossible to organize an operation of that size in Cuba without the approval of Fidel Castro.

NARRATOR:
Despite this, some navy officers were unhappy with their orders. Manuel de Beunza recalls a revealing conversation with Admiral Betancourt.

Mr. de BEUNZA:
[through interpreter] Perez Betancourt told me that Aldo Santamaria was involved in drug trafficking. He said Aldo was following Fidel and Raul's orders but he was doing it reluctantly whereas he, Perez Betancourt, say that if he were the boss of the navy, he would be happy to do it because they were Fidel's orders, and that surprised me.

NARRATOR:
The drug runners at Marina Hemingway also believed that their Cuban contacts had the approval of their superiors.

Mr. RUIZ:
If they do it without having the assurance 100 percent, they're crazy, which I don't think they are. Once Tony and I were alone, in cabin number 26 in the Marina Hemingway, down there in Havana, and I asked him, "Tony, there is not problem at all in this thing that we're doing, right?" Tony, "No." "You're sure?" "Sure." "Everything is secure all the way to the top, right?" "You bet on it."

Mr. FONTAINE:
It's inconceivable to me that a dangerous, risky, criminal activity would have been carried out on the part of Tony de la Guardia, for example, without specific orders from his superiors.

NARRATOR:
The arrest of Reinaldo Ruiz and his eon put Tony on the spot. Their confessions blew his cover. Cuba no longer had deniability. De la Guardia was a spy who was about to be left out in the cold.

JOSE LUIS LLOVIO-MENENDEZ, former Chief Adviser, Ministry of Finance:
He was very lonely and he was like a fog. He didn't know where to go.

INTERVIEWER:
He was cornered?

Mr. LLOVIO-MENENDEZ:
Yes, he was cornered. He was very cornered.

NARRATOR:
De la Guardia turned to a former government official to whom he was related by marriage. Llovio-Menendez, who now lives in Manhattan, says he received 15 phone calls from Tony de la Guardia in Havana. The last call was only days before his arrest.

Mr. LLOVIO-MENENDEZ:
The last week of May, 1989, he called me and he said that he was involved in drug trafficking and he-and an order without alternative was given to him by the minister of the interior at that moment, Jose Abrantes, and it was Fidel who gave the order to Abrantes. Then I was very upset. "How can you get involved in a thing like that?" He said, "It was an order without alternative. I had to do it. And I know that if something happen, I'm going to be alone. If this is known, I'm going to be alone and nobody will protect me."

NARRATOR:
As he stepped into the witness box at his court martial, de la Guardia must have felt completely alone. He knew that many of those present had direct knowledge of drug operations. Some had even taken part in them. But no one would speak in de la Guardia's defense.

Mr. FONTAINE:
In the trial itself, remember the tapes that we can see were edited by the Cuban government, totally controlled by the Cuban government. Nevertheless, in one of the tapes, de la Guardia was charged, in fact, with personally-and as other people-personally benefiting from the drug money. Denied it. He said he did it because he wanted to earn hard currency for the revolution, that he did not personally benefit from it. The charge of corruption, even though the man was on the spot, even though he's the fall guy, even though he knows he's being set up, is something he personally could not accept and didn't and said so.

NARRATOR:
Admiral Santamaria was one of those who signed de la Guardia's sentence, though he himself is still under indictment for drug trafficking in the U.S.

Mr. LLOVIO-MENENDEZ:
Tony de la Guardia knew that Fidel was involved in drug trafficking. He was the only living witness except perhaps Raul Castro and Abrantes who knew that Fidel was involved in drug trafficking. Fidel had to get rid of him.

NARRATOR:
After the court martial and the trial, Castro convened the Council of State in order to ratify the sentences. Under Cuban law, the maximum sentence for drug smuggling is 15 years, but de la Guardia, General Ochoa and their two aides were facing death. For two spell-binding hours, Castro argued that the moral damage done to the revolution amounted to high treason and death was the only proper punishment.

Mr. RODRIGUEZ:
[through interpreter] Fidel says, "I represent the revolution. It's an ideology of purity and morality." His power rests on this ideology and this keeps him from being just another dictator. Otherwise Fidel would be just like Somosa, just like Trujillo, just like the others. So for these reasons, Fidel needs to maintain the ideology because it keeps him in power.

NARRATOR:
In the end, when it came to the vote, Castro urged the Council to raise their hands and ratify the death sentences.

FIDEL CASTRO:
[through interpreter] Those who agree with the ratification of the sentence handed down by the Military Court, raise your hands.

NARRATOR:
Castro was unopposed.

Mr. FONTAINE:
If he is willing to jettison his closest friends, who's safe in Cuba? Because they may be set up at some point if it's convenient to use another fall guy. And I think that has very serious implications for the regime and himself.

NARRATOR:
Four days after Castro closed the session, de la Guardia and three others faced the firing squad.

Mr. LLOVIO-MENENDEZ:
I felt very angry and I felt that Fidel had been merciless. He has protected his image by killing a man who was acting under his orders.

NARRATOR:
According to Castro, the destruction of de la Guardia's ring should have stopped the flow of drugs through Cuba. According to U.S. Customs, trafficking has declined since the trial but it has not stopped. According to the drug smugglers, de la Guardia was not the only official who helped channel drugs through Cuba.

INTERVIEWER:
Is that the end of drug smuggling in Cuba?

Mr. RUIZ:
No.

INTERVIEWER:
How do you know?

Mr. RUIZ:
Because those channels are available any time and I could activate one or two very easily or send to activate it.

INTERVIEWER:
How many do you know of?

Mr. RUIZ:
How many do I know of? Five or six.

INTERVIEWER:
Five or six people?

Mr. RUIZ:
Channels.

NARRATOR:
The five top Cuban officials named by Ruiz include Admiral Santamaria and Manuel Pinero, head of the America Department. The U.S. Coast Guard has also continued to observe drug drops off Cuba in the last 18 months.

Lt. Cmdr. KARONIS:
We detected airplanes flying over Cuba and apparently making air drops of drugs for three nights in a row. One night in particular, they dropped to three U.S. fast boats right inside Cuban waters. We intercepted them in international waters. We chased them. They headed back down into Cuban waters. We also encountered several Cuban gunboats during the same chase.

NARRATOR:
As in the past, those gunboats appeared to be protecting the operation and when the Americans got too close, a Cuban helicopter came to chase them away. At least 18 such operations have been observed by U.S. Customs since the trial. There is no way of knowing how many others have gone undetected.

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