Ex-Cuban agent says Havana helped bankroll $7.2 million robbery in 1983

May 06, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- Did Cuba's Marxist regime help execute one of the biggest robberies in U.S. history? When U.S. officials first suggested this after Puerto Rico's Macheteros guerrillas stole $7.2 million from a Wells Fargo armored truck in Connecticut in 1983, skeptics thought it was a politically motivated claim by the Reagan administration.

But now, a former Cuban agent says he and other Cubans helped the Puerto Rican rebels prepare the robbery -- as well as several other bank robberies throughout the hemisphere -- from their offices at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City.

Jorge Masetti, 37, an Argentine-born, Cuban-raised former revolutionary who sought refuge in France in 1990, says the Cuban government's Department of the Americas provided a $50,000 "loan" to the Macheteros rebels to finance the Connecticut robbery.

The Cuban Embassy in Mexico also provided logistical support to get part of the money out of the United States and to spirit at least one of the Puerto Rican bank robbers into Cuba, according to Mr. Masetti.

"I know, because I was part of the operation," Mr. Masetti said in a telephone interview from Paris. "I was the one who prepared the bag with the $50,000 for the Macheteros, and I was the one who prepared the fake passports to get the bank robbers from Mexico to Cuba after."

Mr. Masetti's revelations, made in a book he has just published in France, would confirm long-held assertions by U.S. officials that Cuba provided logistical support for the

Macheteros' bank robbery on Sept. 12, 1983.

Until now, nobody associated with the Cuban government had admitted Cuba's involvement in the robbery.

"What he says is not inconsistent with what we know," said John Danaher, the assistant U.S. attorney in Hartford, Conn., who is in charge of the case. "We knew that there was a Cuba connection through Mexican territory, but we don't know all the details."

Mr. Masetti said the $50,000 to finance the Macheteros' operation was brought to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico around February 1983 by Jose A. Arbesu, a high-ranking Americas Department official who would later head the Cuban interest section in Washington.

Mr. Masetti took the money and hid it in a suitcase, which another Cuban Embassy official later handed to one of the Macheteros, he said.

Shortly after the bank robbery, Mr. Masetti was ordered to help transport by car an estimated $4 million from the U.S. border to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico. But he was in Argentina and did not arrive in time to carry out the operation, he added.

When he returned to Mexico a few weeks after the robbery, he was assigned by his Cuban bosses to forge an Argentine passport for Victor M. Gerena, ringleader of the Wells Fargo holdup. The fugitive was in Mexico City under the protection of the Cuban Embassy, Mr. Masetti said.

Mr. Gerena, now in his mid-30s, was the Wells Fargo security guard who took two fellow employees hostage at gunpoint and took the money. He is still at large -- and on the list of the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives.

U.S. law enforcement officials said in 1985 that Mr. Gerena had fled to Mexico and from there to Cuba. Mr. Gerena's indictment says part of the cash is "in the care and custody of the Cuban government."

The Macheteros' bank robbery is only one of several holdups and kidnappings that were carried out by Latin American leftists with Cuban financial and logistical support in the 1980s, Mr. Masetti says in his book, "License for Piracy: The Voyage of a Child of the Cuban Revolution."

"Most South American revolutionary organizations were going through a difficult period, and their financial problems were growing every day," Mr. Masetti recalls in the book. "Therefore, what started as an occasional activity [bank robberies and kidnappings] ended up becoming a permanent activity . . . revolutionary banditry."

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