September 25, 2007

Ochoa Sdnchez of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces
(FAR) was arrested on charges of corruption, mismanage-
ment of government funds and immoral acts. Within a few
days, drug trafficking was added to his indictment. Thirteen
other government officials were also indicted at the time,
including high-ranking Interior Ministry (MININT) official,
Col. Antonio de la Guardia. Gen. Ochoa and the MININT
group were found guilty by a military tribunal, and on July 13
he and three others were executed by firing squad. The
involvement of government officials in drug trafficking
created one of Cuba's most severe political crises since the
revolution. Internally, the mood was somber and self-criti-
cal. Internationally, the trial generated intense speculation.
According to their own confession, between 1987 and
1989, the MININT group carried out 15 drug transactions in
collaboration with Colombian drug dealers, involving a total
of six tons of cocaine. At the Varadero airfield they refueled
planes and transferred drugs onto speedboats bound for
Florida. Ochoa obtained an illegal passport for his aide to
meet Medellin drug boss Pablo Escobar in Colombia and
establish plans for drug deals without the involvement of the
MININT group, although he was unable to coordinate any
solo deals before his arrest.
Gen. Ochoa joined the revolution in his teens and fought
in the Sierra Maestra. He commanded Cuban forces in
Angola and Ethiopia brilliantly, and he was one of very few honored as a Hero of the Revolution. Moreover, Ochoa was
a popular figure, good-humored and generous. As humiliat-
ing as it was to have U.S. accusations of Cuban drug dealing turn out to be true, Ochoa's motives were more disturbing still. Had the revolution lost all meaning for him? Ochoa' s trial statements reveal little onthis point. Hetook
responsibility for his actions, and expressed penitence about
the damage they caused the government. Initially, he claimed
that the money he raised through drug trafficking would go to help Cuba's tourist economy. In his later, more suggestive, remarks, he commented on being tired, on having lost his
way. In a country whose exceptionalism rests on its revolu-
tionary commitment, Ochoa's actions and words must have
been painful for many, a frightening reflection of cynicism at
the top. The official Cuban position was straightforward: Corrup-
tion had been uncovered and the individuals involved were punished, regardless of their rank. Tie vigorous and highly-
publicized crackdown was an attempt to isolate the damage.
While acknowledging the difficulty of the decision, Fidel
Castro defended the death sentences as a necessary measure
to purge the country of a dangero cancer."
Ochoa and the others were pro-perestroika reformists,
purged to remove any potential threat. Despite the dearth of
evidence, this rather wishful view was picked up by the U.S.
government. There was also conjecture that Ral Castro
found Ochoa's popularity so offensive that he had to be
disgraced. Another interpretation suggested that making
such a public show of prosecutin drug dealers was Cuba's
attempt at rapprochement with the United States-high-
lighting an issue of common concern. The U.S. Drug En-
forcement Administration has been accusing the Cuban
government of complicity in the drug trade since 1982.
Many questioned how the cries of these officials could
have gone unnoticed in a small country, with a strict hierar-
chical chain of command. The official answer is that the
MININT group led by de la Guardia had engaged in author-
ized covert operations since 1982 to circumvent the U.S.
embargo, bringing U.S. goods into Cuba and secretly selling
Cuban products overseas. Their commercial activities, de-
tailed at the trial, allowed them, without the knowledge of
higher-ups, to add narcotics to the items they smuggled in.
As the trial proceeded, the pivotal issue became not what
Fidel Castro knew, but why these agents had been allowed to
operate with so little oversight? A month after the trial, their
boss, Interior Minister Jose Abrantes, was sentenced to 20
ears for negligence, corruption. and abuse of office.
According to Fidel Castro. "There was never a cleaner
trial nor one with greater participation." The U.S. press
called it a show trial, a kangaroo court. The trial was broad-
cast on national television, and the proceedings were re-
printed in the Communist Party daily Granma. For a military
trial to permit so much public exposure was indeed remark-
able. Nevertheless, pre-trial confessions were obtained,
defense lawyers had little time to work, and they urged their
clients to accuse themselves. The foreign press was barred
from the trial. Three Cuban human rights activists claimed
Ochoa had been drugged prior to his court appearance, that
the defendants had been psychologically mistreated, and that
the bodies of the executed were not returned to their families.
They were jaled for disseminatng false information.'
It has been over a year since the trial, and many questions
reainnanswered. Evidence to confirm the various suppo-
sitions of foreign observers has yet to surface. Inside Cuba,
however, even for those who accept the government's case,
the cynicism evidenced by the accused sowed doubts that
will not easil be put to rest.

Tags: Cuba, Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, corruption, drug trafficking, Revolution

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