- The Cuban dictator is devoting a lot
of his destitute island nation's budget to secretive biological- and chemical-weapons
research. Will he share his germ arsenal with terrorists?
- Not far from Havana's picturesque harbor,
where ogling tourists and curvaceous prostitutes ply Cuba's only thriving
form of free trade, stands the Luis Diaz Soto Naval Hospital, flanked by
a newly built concrete laboratory complex about 400 feet long by 300 feet
wide. Inside the compound, along a 165-foot acid-resistant work table with
built-in circuit breakers, military biotechnicians reportedly experiment
on cadavers, hospital patients and live animals with anthrax, brucellosis,
equine encephalitis, dengue fever, hepatitis, tetanus and a variety of
other bacterial agents.
- Five chemical- and biological-weapons
plants operate throughout the island, according to documents smuggled out
of Cuba and made available to Insight by Alvaro Prendes, a former Cuban
air force colonel who now is the Miami-based spokesman for the Union of
Liberated Soldiers and Officers, a clandestine pro-democracy movement within
Cuba's security services.
- The credibility of the smuggled documents
is enhanced by a recent classified Pentagon analysis. Also, these facilities
have not been on the itinerary of such visiting dignitaries as retired
Marine Gen. John Sheehan, the recently passed-over candidate for chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who enthusiastically embraced normalizing
relations with Havana following a recent round of junketing with Castro.
- Pentagon, State Department and congressional
sources also point to continuing Cuban support for international terrorism
and drug trafficking. They tell Insight that, according to the CIA, Russian
specialists still operate the electronic listening station at Lourdes on
the northeast tip of the island which taps into U.S. communications. During
the Persian Gulf War, this station forwarded strategic information to Iraq.
- Reports smuggled out this year by dissident
Cuban military officers and scientists are believed to be among the factors
prompting Defense Secretary William Cohen to revise a Pentagon report sent
to Congress last April which decertified Cuba as a threat to U.S. national
security. The revised report, still classified but made available to an
Insight reporter, states: "Cuba's air force is in disrepair and much
of the regular army is demobilized, but the Castro government retains the
potential to pose unconventional threats. It has the infrastructure which
can be adapted to the production of chem-bio weapons."
- A classified annex to the Pentagon's
final report to Congress further warns: "According to sources within
Cuba, at least one research site is run and funded by the Cuban military
to work on the development of offensive and defensive biological weapons."
- Why does the president ignore this? "Clinton
just wants to avoid another front," says Ernesto Betancourt, former
director of Radio Marti, a U.S. government broadcasting service. Betancourt
believes that the administration is terrified of provoking a confrontation
which could lead to another Cuban wave of refugees. "While maintaining
the economic embargo to placate Cuban-American voters, Clinton desperately
avoids making waves with Castro," Betancourt adds.
- "The administration has been asleep
at the switch on China, India and very possibly now on Cuba," Chairman
Dan Burton of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee tells
Insight. "They are simply not on the ball." Moreover, former
U.S. ambassador to Colombia Lewis Tambs has the same concern: "If
we cannot prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in our
backyard, how can we hope to do so halfway around the world?"
- Although Clinton has been sufficiently
concerned about the general threat of chemical and biological terrorism
triggering an internal domestic crisis by setting up a series of new response
measures -- including expanded storage of antidotes, stepped-up inoculations
of military personnel and a call for $250 million to train first-responder
teams at state and local levels -- he appears to be taking no action against
- According to the documents obtained by
Insight, Castro initiated his chemical-weapons program in 1981 when Soviet
technicians built a plant to produce tricothecen, the main component of
"yellow rain," in an underground tunnel complex at Quimonor in
Matanzas province. The program was expanded some years later with the construction
of another chemical-weapons facility in Pinar del Rio, where Cuban and
Soviet technicians began experimenting with mixtures of germs and toxins
to produce anthrax, the documents assert.
- Drastic cutbacks in Russian subsidies
and military aid to Cuba did not dissuade Castro from further expanding
his development of germ warfare. According to Betancourt, classified CIA
reports dating back to 1989 describe Cuban efforts to acquire technology
and equipment to manufacture biological weapons.
- The exile reports back this up: While
Cuba's economy collapsed, Dr. Maria del Pilar y Gloria de la Campa, a biochemist
and Politburo member on Castro's presidential staff -- whose real name
is Gladys Llanusa -- made repeated trips to Europe, the Middle East and
the former Soviet Union to arrange related purchases, these reports say.
A centrifugal reactor capable of 10,000 revolutions per minute, used to
separate biological microorganisms from solid and liquid substances, was
acquired through Comicondor, an Italian company in Milan which also supplies
technology to Libya for Col. Muammar Qaddafi's biological-weapons experiments.
- Cuba's chemical- and biological-weapons
production is administered through a network of state-controlled biogenetic
industries operated by interlocking front companies linked to the Defense
and Interior ministries. Manuel Cereijo, a professor of electronic engineering
at Florida International University in Miami who has debriefed more than
300 Cuban scientists, estimates that from an original investment of $1.6
million in 1980, Cuba's biogenetic industry has grown into a $2 billion-a-year
venture. "This unprecedented level of investment is comparable with
the biotechnologies of the most advanced industrial countries in Europe
and the United States. It's out of all proportion to Cuba's small and bankrupt
economy which is desperately undeveloped in all other areas," Cereijo
- Eleven biochemical plants currently are
operating in Cuba, half of which are believed to serve military purposes,
according to the Florida professor. With the exception of some cattle inoculants,
very little vaccine is being produced for medical or commercial purposes,
his sources say. The Prendes documents explain:
- The two newest laboratories, built near
military installations on the east side of Havana Bay have started operating
during the last five years. The largest facility, located 100 meters from
the naval hospital, was completed in late 1993 and inaugurated in April
1994, while another began functioning in early 1995 close to the J. Finlay
- These plants are supervised closely by
a military-scientific coordinating body composed of top army and intelligence
officers. They include former armed-forces chief of staff Gen. Ulises Rosales
del Toro and counterintelligence chief Col. Librado Reina Benitan. Another
officer with an extensive track record in special operations, Gen. Julio
Casas Regueiro, also is supervising the project, as are two personal deputies
to Defense Minister Raul Castro (a Col. Alonso and a Brig. Gen. Milian)
and the chief of investments for the armed forces, Lt. Col. Sergio Sanchez.
- According to Cuban sources with personal
access to the project's rec-ords, a team of specialists in strategic military
construction, carefully vetted by Cuban counterintelligence, carried out
much of the construction and installation.
- The Italian-manufactured centrifugal
plant and other laboratory equipment were transported to Cuba in 1993 onboard
a Panama-registered vessel crewed by carefully selected Cuban naval personnel.
Records indicate the ship, the Cristina Amary, previously used for sensitive
cargo, is leased to front companies operated by the Cuban military intelligence,
Cubanacan S.A. and Cimex, which intelligence experts say channel financial
proceeds from tourism and other state-run enterprises into military operations.
The intelligence sources also maintain that accounting records for the
lab's construction are meticulously covered up through authorized funding
for extensions to existing medical facilities and the remodeling of Havana's
historical El Morro Fortress.
- "The extensive covert arrangements
indicate plans to use the material produced in the plants in an offensive
capacity or for genocidal purposes to eliminate centers of antigovernment
unrest," says Col. Prendes, who was a Cuban top gun and chief air-defense
strategist before being forced into exile in 1994 when he called upon Castro
to resign. SS-22 medium-range missiles acquired from the Soviet Union in
1990 are installed at coastal batteries near the most recently built laboratories,
according to the colonel. Within easy striking range of Florida, these
missiles could be armed with chemical or biological warheads.
- Rather than using conventional military
delivery systems, however, more insidious methods are being tested to infect
civilian communities. Experiments are reported to be underway in the use
of insects, rats and even house pets as contaminants. Cuba's biowarfare
technicians also have developed tetanus-carrying antipersonnel mines in
the form of easily built, low-explosive devices armed with infected needles.
These small and inexpensive booby traps reportedly are being used for perimeter
security around forced-labor camps, underground sources report from Cuba.
- Deliveries of biological weapons also
could be facilitated through the numerous terrorist and Mafia organizations
keeping close ties to Havana. According to Tambs, "There is no doubt
about continuing Cuban support for the the National Liberation Army and
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in their alliance with major drug-trafficking
cartels to topple the Colombian government."
- Cuba's support for terrorism is widespread.
Spain's Interior Minister, Jaime Mayor Oreja, despite his country's important
investments in Cuba, accuses Havana of providing asylum and intelligence
support to Basque separatist ETA terrorists. And the State Department is
worked up about recent reports indicating Cuban involvement with guerrillas
of the Zapatista National Liberation Army in Mexico. All these are potential
markets for Cuba's chemical and biological weapons.
- "We are producing medicines, not
weapons," insists a spokesman for the Cuban interests section in Washington,
who claims to be head of the unit but does not give his name. "We
deny the Pentagon's charges of offensive potential in our biogenetic industry,"
he says. A State Department official who says he is uncomfortable about
the subject of Cuban biochemical weapons -- and asks not to be named --
nonetheless says for the record, "Any evidence that Castro could manufacture
biological weapons is strictly circumstantial. We don't see much indication
that he is doing it." The U.S. official points to the embargo of Cuba
as an effective means to curtail the communist island nation's biochemical
research, citing a recent example in which a British company seeking to
enter into joint biogenetic ventures with the Cuban government was blocked
by U.S. sanctions, due to partial ownership of the company by U.S. citizens.
"We are keeping an eye on it," he says reassuringly.
- "These labs operated by the Cuban
military and interior ministries are highly secure and off-limits to foreigners
and visiting scientists," Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
warned in a recent House speech. While she and other members of Congress
have called for on-site inspections of the Cuban facilities, State Department
officials believe "it would be very tricky. The Cubans could claim
the right to inspect our industries. Getting the U.N. involved would be
- "A factor which must be considered
is the deeply sadistic and psychotic nature of Castro's personality,"
says Prendes, who has known him personally since serving as one of his
ace pilots in repelling the 1961 CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion. "He
is determined to hold on to power until the very end, to take everyone
down with him." And Castro's eight-hour speeches still are punctuated
by apocalyptic rhetoric: "Communism or death. ... After me comes the
deluge. ... The last wish of a revolutionary is to pull the trigger against
his enemy, explode a land mine."
- How ruthless is Castro? Would he actually
use these weapons of mass extermination? Consider:
- Among the long line of distinguished
foreign visitors who have enjoyed the opportunity of being hosted and entertained
by Cuba's Maximum Leader, some have been surprised to discover that he
is an avid herpetophile, or reptile lover. A multimillionaire Spanish entrepreneur
and mayor of a luxurious resort city who regularly visits Cuba and is on
first-name terms with Fidel recently told an Insight reporter that he never
will forget being shown around the last true socialist's private game preserve
at Guahnacabiles, occupying an entire peninsula in the western part of
Pinar del Rio. While touring the lush paradise, he was amazed to come upon
a massive snake farm attended by military personnel.
- Castro explained that this is where he
breeds a deadly viper discovered by his troops in Angola -- a snake which
can kill a human instantly.
- Dissident sources often have reported
that these poisonous snakes are used as guards by Castro's security men.
They anchor the snakes to stakes using long tethers as if they were prison
guard dogs. Few prisoners dare even try to escape. So impressed was the
mayor by Castro's Jurassic Park ruthlessness that Fidel sent him a baby
snake as a birthday gift. It was returned to sender.
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