Cuban-American group's chief linked to seized rifle Gun is 1 of 2 suspected in plot to kill Castro VTC

December 22, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- One of the two sniper rifles that U.S. authorities suspect were to be used in a plot to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro was purchased by the president of the Cuban American National Foundation, the Miami Herald has learned.

Francisco Hernandez, CANF's second-highest ranking official, bought the weapon in 1994, according to FBI records. The second rifle was bought by Miami exile Juan Evelio Pou, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion, FBI records say.

The two .50-caliber rifles, capable of firing a flat-trajectory bullet for nearly one mile, were seized by the U.S. Coast Guard on Oct. 27 aboard a Miami-based yacht carrying four Cuban exiles off the northwest coast of Puerto Rico.

The four were charged with failing to report the guns. But a U.S. grand jury in San Juan is still investigating Coast Guard testimony that one of the exiles blurted out that the guns were to be used to kill Castro during a November summit meeting on the Venezuelan island of Margarita.

Although the Havana government has repeatedly accused CANF and its members of financing armed attacks on Cuba, this is the first time a CANF official has been linked to an FBI investigation of an alleged plot against Cuba.

Neither Hernandez, who as salaried CANF president ranks just below the anti-Castro lobby's chairman, nor Pou returned Herald telephone calls. Neither has been charged in the case.

The San Juan grand jury subpoenaed Hernandez to testify before it on Nov. 19, according to one of the defense lawyers in the case. Hernandez appeared before the grand jury, but his testimony is secret.

Also subpoenaed was another Miamian, Jose Antonio Llama, a member of CANF's 28-member Executive Committee, who is listed in state of Florida records as the owner of the yacht seized off Puerto Rico, the 46-foot La Esperanza. Llama's Puerto Rico lawyer, Jose Pagan, said last week he had advised his client to refuse to testify before the grand jury. Llama's appearance was eventually postponed.

A new grand jury indictment "with new defendants" had been expected to be issued last Wednesday, said U.S. court officials in Puerto Rico. But the decision was postponed for unknown reasons.

Justice Department officials traveled to San Juan from Washington last week to confer with local prosecutors in the case.

Pub Date: 12/22/97

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