Monday, October 4, 2010

The Miami Herald, August 14, 1997, "Cuba Bombs Stir a Wild Guessing Game" by Juan O. Tamayo.

Two KGB-trained Cuban super-soldiers who turned against Castro. A CIA-trained exile bomber. Young and secretive malcontents in Havana's security forces. Or a highly visible group of aged exiles in Miami.

Those are some of the suspects named in stories, circulating on both sides of the Florida Straits, on those possibly responsible for a recent spate of bombing attacks on Cuban tourism.

Murmurs of more bombings, everywhere from theaters to playgrounds, emanate daily from Cuba, almost always impossible to confirm yet adding to the deep anxiety permeating Havana and Miami these days.

Few details are publicly available on the eight bombs confirmed since April 12:

Two exploded and one was disarmed in Havana's Melia Cohiba Hotel; three exploded at the Nacional and Capri Hotels and an unidentified hotel in the beach resort of Varadero; and two went off in Bahamas and Mexico City, in front of two Cuban government-owned travel agencies.

The last bomb at the Cohiba on Aug. 3, plus the Nacional, Capri, Varadero and Mexico City bombings were all low-power blasts, apparently lacking shrapnel and designed to terrify rather than to wound or destroy. Only three slight injuries have been confirmed in all the bombings.

But the first Cohiba bomb on April 12 and the Nassau blast Aug. 3 were more powerful, forcing the hotel to close its damaged discotheque for two weeks and blowing a basketball-sized hole in the concrete floor of the Havanatur office.

Cuban security officials have told visitors the first Cohiba bomb was made of C-4, a powerful plastic explosive developed for the U.S. military but sold around the world. There's no word on the type of explosive used in the other blasts.

Trigger mechanisms also are unknown, though it's presumed they involve timers since the bombers otherwise would have been forced to light fuses in plain sight in hotel lobbies.

Three of the bombs exploded on Saturdays the 12th of the month, in April and July.

Amid such paltry evidence, it's not surprising that speculation on who's behind the blasts has ranged from the more reasonable suspects in Havana and Miami to the intriguingly wild.

One version told by people close to Cuba's ruling hierarchy involves two Cuban army officers, KGB-trained and highly decorated veterans of the Angola war, who grew disenchanted with President Fidel Castro.

One was described as a lieutenant colonel in his early 50s, an expert on explosives and booby traps. The other was described as a captain in his mid-40s who has been on several foreign intelligence missions.

They are said to have gone underground in October -- at the same time as an unreported theft of explosives in central Matanzas province -- to wage a bombing campaign against the Castro government.

Skeptics say that if such renegades exist, they probably would go after bigger targets, such as government ministries or Castro himself, rather than Cuba's tourism industry.

Another version has Castro ordering the bombs as an excuse to cancel Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba in January. Skeptics say Castro would be unlikely to endanger his profitable tourism industry just to block the pontiff's visit.

A third version has the bombs as the work of Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile trained by the CIA in explosives and security but who is now in his 60s and has seldom been seen in public in the past decade.

Jailed in Venezuela but never convicted for the 1976 terrorist bombing of a Cuban jetliner in which 73 people died, Posada escaped in 1985 and was reported to have helped Nicaragua's anti-Sandinista guerrillas.

Honduran human rights activists blame him for 41 small bombs set off by the so-called Central American Solidarity Movement in Honduras in 1995 to protest President Carlos Roberto Reina's plans to reduce the size of the armed forces.

Skeptics say it would be difficult for Posada, who left Cuba soon after Castro came to power in 1959, to operate on the island with as much mobility and impunity as the bombers appear to have enjoyed.

Three groups have reportedly claimed responsibility for the bombings -- though none is considered credible -- and Cuba has offered no evidence to support its charge that the people and supplies used in bombings ``came from the United States.''

One claim, for the July 12 bombs at the Nacional and Capri, came from the previously unknown Internal Resistance Army, which described itself as a group of young anti-Castro renegades in the army and security forces.

The second came in a note delivered Wednesday to El Nuevo Herald in which a group calling itself Comandos Mambises claimed responsibility for the Cohiba bombs and the bombing of Havanatur in the Bahamas.

"The Comandos Mambises not only combat the [Castro] tyranny on its own ground but also have gone abroad,'' the note said.

The third came from Alpha 66, a Miami-based group that advocates armed struggle against Castro. Alpha first reported that one of its "cells'' inside Cuba had claimed the Nacional and Capri bombs, but later backed down, saying it had provided only ``the broad intellectual inspiration'' for the bombers.

Two people are known to be jailed in Havana in connection with the bombings, though the Cuban government has declined to comment.

One is a Cuban woman from Hialeah arrested in early May, while visiting a brother, after police claimed they had found traces of C-4 within the weaving of her macrame handbag. The other is a man, described only as being neither a U.S. citizen nor of Cuban descent.

Copyright (c) 1997 The Miami Herald