Monday, October 4, 2010

The Miami Herald, September 28, 1997, "'94 Bombings Against Honduran Leader May Be Linked to Anti-Castro Plot" by Juan O. Tamayo.

Joined by ideology and money, a band of Honduran army officers and Cuban exiles living in Honduras staged a rash of terror bombings against President Carlos Roberto Reina in 1994 and 1995, sources say.

The officers detested the liberal Reina because he wanted to weaken the armed forces' clout by putting the military-run police under civilian control, cutting budgets and limiting weapons purchases, the sources explained. For their part, the exiles viewed Reina as being pro-Fidel Castro, and they wanted the military's gratitude and permission to use Honduras as a secret base for operations against the Cuban president.

Both sides also stood to profit monetarily: The officers pocketed commissions on the weapons purchases. And one of the exiles was well known as the top arms purveyor to the Honduran armed forces.

It's not clear whether the Honduran-Cuban alliance, secret until The Herald revealed it, resulted in anti-Castro attacks. But Honduran authorities have begun dusting off their files on the 1994-95 bombs in the wake of Cuban charges that a Salvadoran arrested in six bombings in Havana this year was hired by exiles in neighboring El Salvador.

A dozen military, police, government and business sources interviewed by The Herald coincide in saying the Honduran bombing plot began soon after the January 1994 inauguration of Reina, who set out to weaken a military that had grown powerful and corrupt in the 1980s.

That's when Washington was pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the Honduran military to assure its clandestine support for CIA-financed contra guerrillas fighting the Marxist Sandinistas in neighboring Nicaragua.

Reina quickly proposed abolishing the draft and overhauling the police and ordered Gen. Luis Alonso Discua, then armed forces commander, to distance himself from a Cuban exile arms dealer because of repeated complaints of kickbacks in arms procurements, said two Hondurans close to Reina.

The exile, Mario Delamico, has long been known as a top arms seller to the contras and the Honduran military. Sources described Delamico as a man in his early 60s who keeps tightly guarded mansions in both Tegucigalpa and Miami.

In April 1994, Delamico and Col. Guillermo Pinel Calix, then the military's intelligence chief, began asking local businessmen for donations to a secret movement that would oppose Reina, according to two entrepreneurs who were approached.

Subversive pitch

Their pitch was that Reina was hurting the military and exposing Honduras to Cuban subversion with the help of his younger brother Jorge, a longtime Castro supporter elected to the national legislature, the businessmen said.

At the time, Honduras was rife with rumors that Reina had placed 200 Cuban security agents in the Honduran telephone company to spy on his political enemies. The allegation, propagated by the military, was later proven false.

By the summer of 1994, Delamico and Pinel Calix were drafting plans for a string of bombings and assassinations against the Reina government, said four people involved in several of the conversations.

"They were talking about using explosives to mount a campaign of intimidation against Reina, to sow panic and insecurity,'' said one source, who like most others asked for anonymity for fear of military retaliation.

"They talked about eradicating Cuban communism from Honduras by the roots, of physically eliminating people if necessary.''

Veteran operative

One of those present at several of the meetings was exile Luis Posada Carriles, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and many other CIA anti-Castro operations, according to three people involved. Posada Carriles was charged, but never convicted, in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner in which 73 people died.

"Delamico introduced Posada as the head of operations, as a veteran of many international actions against Castro communism, and as a man with links to what he called 'U.S. intelligence institutions,' '' one source said. "The deal was unspoken but clear. The Cubans help us control Reina, we let them operate from here, just as we let the contras operate from here.''

That jibes with reports received by the FBI in Miami in 1995 that some 200 exiles then training in an Everglades camp expected to use Honduras as a base for attacks on Cuba to bypass U.S. neutrality laws, FBI sources said.

The Honduran-Cuban alliance took the name of Movement for Central American Solidarity (MCAS) and began issuing clandestine communiques praising the military and attacking Reina as a dangerous Cuba sympathizer.

Low-power bombs

MCAS took responsibility for some 10 bombings in late 1994 and the first half of 1995 -- two that went off near Reina and others at the Supreme Court, a pro-Reina TV station and several businesses owned by Reina backers. Most were low-power bombs, and they resulted in only one serious injury.

But two former military officers said MCAS was also responsible for a July 4, 1994, bombing that killed six Hondurans and wounded 25 near a U.S. military installation in Honduras. A clandestine communique claimed responsibility on behalf of the leftist Morazanista Front. A second one from the Front disavowed any link to the attack and blamed army intelligence.

Honduran authorities confirm they suspect that Delamico was involved with MCAS.

"We have reports MCAS was an anti-Castro group that believed Reina was pro-Cuban and was led by Delamico,'' National Police Intelligence Chief Maj. Adan Mejia told The Herald. Delamico was never arrested, he added, because of lack of proof.

Charges ignored

But the National Police, which will shift to full civilian control only later this year, never investigated several public allegations that military officers and other exiles were also involved in MCAS.

In a marital dispute, the wife of Lt. Felipe Ballesteros, an explosives expert on Pinel Calix's intelligence staff, signed a legal complaint in 1995 charging that Ballesteros had admitted to placing two MCAS bombs in Tegucigalpa.

And in its annual report for 1995, Honduras' Committee for the Defense of Human Rights alleged that MCAS "is a clandestine organization directed, among others, by Luis Posada Carriles.''

After one of his nephews died in the crash of a military airplane in 1995, Reina himself once joked bitterly that he would never fly in a military aircraft without Gen. Discua at his side.

Discua eventually reached an agreement with Reina, accepting many of the president's proposals for military reforms just before Reina named him to a post at the Honduran diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York.

Pinel Calix, who had been in line to take over the National Police, was passed over for the powerful post and now serves as inspector general of the armed forces -- a paper-shuffling job with no troop command.

"Reina and Discua cut a quiet deal to put the MCAS bombings behind them,'' a retired army colonel said.

Less clear is what happened to the Cuban exiles' plans to use Honduras as a base for operations against the Castro government.

An intelligence report sent to Reina in late 1994 or early 1995 mentioned a never-confirmed rumor that exiles were undergoing military training in Swan Island, 100 miles south of Cuba, one of its authors said. The Honduran islet was often used by the CIA in the 1960s as a base for attacks on Cuba.

A top Reina government official said a Havana envoy presumed to be an intelligence agent quietly warned him in May 1995 that Delamico, Posada and four other exiles in Honduras were plotting "activities'' against Cuba.

The same Cuban asked several knowledgeable Hondurans in early 1995 whether they had heard any reports of exiles undergoing military training in a base on Honduras' northern Caribbean coast, three of the sources said.

But there has been no hard evidence at all of any Honduras-originated actions against Cuba or Cuban targets in Central America, such as embassies or diplomats.

Pinel Calix did not answer Herald requests for an interview, and Delamico's secretary in Honduras said he was somewhere in Europe and not expected back for several weeks.

Posada, a fugitive in connection with the Cuban jetliner bombing, left Honduras after the 1995 human rights report revealed he was living in Tegucigalpa and the northern city of San Pedro Sula.

He is now reported to be living in El Salvador.

Copyright (c) 1997 The Miami Herald