AP 3 - 2022 - 200-2

25 September 1997 Edition

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Suspect held for Cuban bombings

Backing of Miami exiles suspected



By Dara MacNeil

The Cuban authorities have arrested a Salvadoran national in connection with the recent series of ``unexplained explosions'' on the island. Authorities said that Raul Cruz Leon has confessed to planting five of the six bombs that have exploded in Havana, since mid-July.

On 4 September, an Italian resident of Canada, 32 year old Fabio di Celmo, was killed outright by one of the no-warning bombs. There were no warnings given for any of the explosions and, likewise, no claims of responsibility.

All six occurred in popular tourist hotels, or restaurants. Cuban authorities say Mr Cruz Leon has admitted responsibility for five explosions: three in September and two in mid-July.

In addition to the alleged confession, police also say they found explosive traces on Mr Cruz Leon's hands and clothes, along with a series of plans detailing the layout of prestigious tourist outlets in Havana.

Cruz is said to have smuggled a quantity of C-4 explosive onto the island with him, which was later used in three hotel explosions on 4 September. It was one these explosions which killed Fabio di Celmo. Mr Leon is said to have last entered Cuba on 31 August, posing as a tourist travelling from Guatemala. He is said to have been paid £4,500 for each bomb placed.

Cuban authorities suspect that Mr Cruz Leon was in the employ of right-wing groups in Miami. They have also accused the US government of aiding and abetting the bombing campaign.

Cuban vice-president Raul Castro has claimed US authorities were informed of the campaign before it began, in July. The bombs had deliberately targeted the island's booming tourist industry.

Last year, Cuba earned almost $1.5 billion from tourist revenue, as much as 50 percent more than the revenue earned from the island's traditional money-spinner, sugar. Indeed, revenue from tourism shows every indication of continuing to grow unabated.

As a result, it provides a valuable resource in the island's 36-year old campaign to offset the worst effects of the illegal US blockade. The blockade was further tightened with the introduction of the Helms-Burton law, last year. The law attempts to prevent other countries trading with Cuba, by way of sanctions and travel restrictions. Grateful Cuban exiles in Miami, principally big business interests who lost out to the Revolution, showed their gratitude to Senator Helms by channelling some $160,000 into his successful re-election campaign last year, a campaign on which he is reputed to have spent an astonishing $19 million. Democratic Party coffers were also boosted by the wealthy exiles' largesse.

Hard evidence of a Miami-link to the bombing campaign has yet to be revealed. However, past experience suggests that even if it were to emerge, none of the Miami figures would face prosecution. But at present, there is at least circumstantial proof of a link to the wealthy, Florida-based zealots.

The hotel chain which suffered most in the recent campaign was that owned and run (in a joint venture with the Cuban government) by the Spanish Sol Melia group. Three of the six no-warning bombs exploded at its flagship Havana hotel, the Melia Cohiba. There are also said to have been explosions at Sol Melia hotels in the nearby resort of Varadero.

Interestingly, when the Helms-Burton edict was signed into law last year by President Clinton the Sol Melia group was quick to announce its opposition.

It also declared that, faced with a choice between investments in Cuba or the US, it would choose the former and sell off its hotels in Florida. The statement provoked the wrath of Florida's immensely powerful anti-Castro Cubans. In the past, those that have displeased the self-styled `Cuban Mafia' have not gone unpunished.

In 1976, the executive of a Miami-based radio station lost his legs in a car bombing. He had been an outspoken and vociferous critic of the anti-Castro elements and their terrorist antics. The case was never solved.

Earlier that same year, a bomb placed on a Cuban airliner had killed 73 people. And in 1980 a Cuban envoy to the UN was assassinated in the streets of New York.

In 1996, a number of Miami travel agents who had the temerity to offer trips to Cuba - there are limited exceptions to the US travel restrictions - had firebombs placed outside their premises. Again, no arrests, no convictions.

But whatever about the marked incapacity of the Miami police to investigate the sordid activities of the city's powerful anti-Castro faction, it is the US government itself which will be the subject of some serious embarrassment next January.

That is the scheduled date for a visit to the island by Pope John Paul II. An estimated two million US citizens have indicated an interest in travelling to Cuba for the occasion.

However, given the prohibitive US-imposed travel restrictions it is highly unlikely anywhere near that number would be granted their `right to travel' (rings a bell, that).

Some of the putative travellers have voiced their intention to charter a boat to the island - on the pretence that they are embarking on a leisurely Caribbean cruise. Again, that presents the US with a serious dilemma: during the tenure of Contra advocate, George Bush, a US citizen was charged and convicted by the US authorities, simply because he ran chartered fishing trips into Cuban waters.

As a recent letter to the Irish Times pointed out, Article 13 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights proclaims every citizen's right to travel to and from their own country. Presumably, the letter continues, Mary Robinson as the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will ``remind Mr Clinton of his obligations'' to uphold the UN Declaration. Not just some of it. All of it.

And hopefully while doing so, the new Commissioner might also voice her vociferous condemnation of the US blockade of Cuba, as a serious violation of the human rights of Cuba's citizenry.

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