October 27, 1998

Cuba bombing suspect not political, Salvadorans say

By JUAN O. TAMAYO, Herald Staff Writer
Published Tuesday, October 27, 1998, in the Miami Herald

A second Salvadoran man arrested in Havana in a string of bombings masterminded by a Cuban exile was chief of security at a business conglomerate and had no known political leanings, officials in San Salvador said Monday.

One of the officials added that the Salvadoran government learned of the arrest of Otto Rene Rodriguez Llereno, 40, sometime in June from ``friends in the U.S. Embassy there.

Guatemalan government spokesmen, meanwhile, said they knew nothing about the three unidentified Guatemalans who Cuban President Fidel Castro said were also arrested in the bombing spree against tourism centers in the summer of 1997.

Castro told a group of U.S. newspaper executives visiting Havana on Saturday that the four would-be bombers had been sent by Luis Posada Carriles, 70, a longtime militant exile who has admitted arranging the bombings.

Posada, a CIA-trained explosives expert, has lived semi-secretly in El Salvador since he escaped from a Venezuelan jail in 1985 while awaiting trial in the bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people.

`Unofficial channels'

Salvadoran Interior Minister Mario Acosta told the newspaper MAS that his government learned of Rodriguez's arrest just recently through ``unofficial channels because El Salvador and Cuba have no diplomatic relations.

But another official said the U.S. Embassy tipped off the government in July, ``about one month after Rodriguez's arrest, which we believe took place around June 10.

Embassy officials could not be reached for comment. Washington ordered its Central American embassies in August to make it clear to their host governments that Posada was not a U.S. ``protege despite his CIA background.

A senior Cuban official, Ramiro Abreu, later confirmed Rodriguez's arrest during an unpublicized visit to San Salvador, a Salvadoran government official added.

Rodriguez, 40, was security chief for the Roble Group, a business conglomerate owned by the wealthy Poma family, and had no known military or political background, said one knowledgeable official in San Salvador.

Guatemala to Cuba

Emigration records show Rodriguez left June 10 on a flight to Guatemala and presumably flew from there to Cuba, the MAS newspaper reported.

Salvadoran officials said they found no link between Rodriguez and Posada or the other Salvadoran jailed in Havana for the bombings, Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon. Cuba announced Cruz Leon's arrest in September 1997.

Cruz Leon's younger brother, William, said he did not know Rodriguez. The two families own houses a half mile apart in a middle-class San Salvador suburb, but Rodriguez's house has been rented for several years.

Posada has confirmed publicly that he offered Cruz Leon money to set off some of the dozen bombs that wracked Cuba last year, killing an Italian tourist and sparking rumors of a menacing internal opposition to Castro.

He could not be reached for comment on Castro's claims, but The Herald reported June 6 that Posada had told exile friends that Cuban police had arrested two of his bomb smugglers besides Cruz Leon.

Smuggled explosives

The Herald reported that Posada had plotted to smuggle plastic explosives from Guatemala to Cuba in the fall of 1997, hiding them in baby diapers, shampoo bottles and the shoes of Guatemalan ``tourists.

Exiles said Posada told them that a third bomb carrier was arrested in similar circumstances around June -- which could fit Rodriguez's apparent arrest June 10.

During a six-hour meeting with the newspaper executives, Castro also repeated Havana's allegation that Posada was financed by the Cuban American National Foundation. The anti-Castro lobby has denied the charge.

The arrests reported by Castro brought to at least eight the total of foreigners and Cuban exiles known to be held in Havana on charges of plotting or staging terrorists attacks. They are:

  • Two Salvadorans.
  • Three Guatemalans.
  • Cuban exiles Armando Martinez Rueda and Jorge Enrique Ramirez, reportedly arrested in 1996 after they flew to Havana using false Costa Rican passports. Nothing more is known about them.
  • Coral Gables handyman Walter Van Der Veer, sentenced to 15 years in prison last year on charges of possessing incendiary devices and trying to promote violent attacks against the Castro government.

Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald


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