Cuban death squad material vanished after journalist's murder

March 18, 1992|By Juan Gonzalez | Juan Gonzalez,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- In the days just before he was shot to death execution-style in a Queens restaurant, journalist Manuel de Dios Unanue told several people about the large manila envelope with explosive information that he was about to mail to Puerto Rico.

He even showed it off -- addressed and with postage stamps affixed -- while dining with four friends the week before his death.

The contents, Mr. de Dios said, would implicate anti-Castro Cuban terrorists, for the first time, with top Puerto Rican and U.S. law enforcement officials in secret death squads that operated for years on the island.

That was always Mr. de Dios' style -- part bravado, part cunning. He especially relished making targets of his exposes squirm.

The envelope never reached its destination.

"There was a package of information expected from Manuel but, to my knowledge, it never arrived," Puerto Rican Senate President Miguel Hernandez Agosto confirmed Sunday.

It was supposed to contain "new information on Cerro Maravilla," the investigation into the death squads, said Hernandez Agosto, one of the most powerful politicians on the island, during a half-hour interview in his San Juan office.

At 7 a.m. Thursday, less than 12 hours after Mr. de Dios was killed in New York, there was an anonymous phone call to WUNO Radio in San Juan.

"I am a Cuban. What happened to Unanue will happen to Marco Rigau and Perez Viera," the caller told the woman who took the call at the station.

Mr. Rigau, chairman of the Puerto Rican Senate's Judiciary Committee, has been conducting new Cerro Maravilla hearings. Edgardo Perez Viera is Puerto Rico's special prosecutor and chief investigator in the case.

That call was followed by two more that day to the same station threatening the Cerro Maravilla investigators.

Were these just prank calls seizing on the news of Mr. de Dios' death? Or were they official notice that the death squads are still alive, that right-wing Cubans had silenced Mr. de Dios -- a fellow Cuban refugee whom some considered a traitor and closet Castro supporter.

In Puerto Rico, officials are taking no chances. During Mr. de Dios' funeral on Saturday, police would not allow the press to photograph Vicky Sanchez, his longtime companion and mother of his child, Melody.

One of those people was Julito Labatut, a rich Cuban businessman who lives in Puerto Rico and who has publicly claimed in the past to have worked for the CIA. Mr. Labatut is on the editorial board of a Miami-based anti-Castro magazine called Cronica.

A week before Mr. de Dios' death, a full-page article blasting his testimony in the Cerro Maravilla case appeared in Cronica.

This is some of what the article said about Mr. de Dios:

"It is shameful that a Cuban, a pro-Castroite, has the nerve to sit and testify against dignified figures in Puerto Rican politics who have dedicated their lives to public service."

The article also reminds its readers that Mr. de Dios visited Cuba and interviewed officials there, "just as did Carlos Muniz Varela, who received justice in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on April 28, 1979, for allegedly being an agent of Cuban security."

Mr. Muniz was the owner of a travel agency in Puerto Rico. Like Mr. de Dios, he was a Cuban refugee who had a more moderate stand against Mr. Castro and was willing to make travel arrangements to Cuba.

Mr. Muniz's "justice" was being executed by unknown assailants, just as Mr. de Dios was.

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