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A former top aide to Cuban President Fidel Castro has provided WorldNetDaily with information he claims links the Cuban government to the international drug trade and money laundering.

In an exclusive interview with WorldNetDaily, Ernesto Betancourt, who was Castro’s special representative to the U.S. government during the earliest years of the Cuban revolution, stated that the Castro government retains its ties with drug trafficking, despite official Cuban denials.

Betancourt also provided a written report on the current Cuba/drug connection, based in large part on an upcoming book on the subject.

Disaffected by the communist orientation of Cuba’s revolution, Betancourt, who had been International Monetary Fund governor for Cuba, fled to the U.S., where he later became the first director of Radio Marti, the Voice of America’s Cuban service.

Betancourt identified the island resort of Cayo Largo, south of the main island of Cuba, as a key location for the laundering of drug money.

Cuban defectors, according to Betancourt, have stated that visiting drug barons would take advantage of Cayo Largo’s amicable banking facilities to begin the process of exchanging “dirty” money for untraceable, “clean” bank accounts.

At Cayo Largo and other locations in Cuba illicitly obtained money is “legitimized” by transfer into accounts controlled by the Cuban government, Betancourt stated.

One likely set of accounts that may also be used for these transactions – and even more difficult to trace than official Cuban government accounts – are Castro’s own private accounts, referred to as the “Reserva del Comandante.”

The existence of the Reserva del Comandante first came to light after the defection of Jesus Fernandez, a high-level financial manager in the Cuban government who periodically discussed Cuban governmental affairs with Betancourt.

The Reserva del Comandante were originally used to funnel Soviet money into Cuba’s overseas military operations.

Currently, money from drug sales, particularly in the United States, reaches Cuba through “mules,” individuals traveling to Cuba carrying “tens of thousands of dollars in cash,” Betancourt revealed. After its arrival in Cuba, the money is then deposited into Cuban accounts.

Betancourt stated that Castro has served as a mediator between Colombian drug lords. The former official cited a December 1998 case in which Colombian National Police intercepted a seven-ton shipment of cocaine bound for Cuba. The cocaine was sent as material for a Cuban plastic factory controlled by the Cuban government. Colombian police found evidence of seven or eight earlier shipments bound for the plastics factory.

Cuba’s drug links apparently extend beyond the Western Hemisphere.

Betancourt cited a July 16 report in a newspaper in Madrid, Spain, of an agreement to import eight kilos a week of coca into Madrid from Cuba. The deal was between a Cuban national who referred to himself as “El anillo” – “the ring” – and undercover Spanish television reporters.

When the question of security for the drug deal was raised, the Cuban stated, “As for security, forget it. I pay here for the security. … I answer only to one, the government,” referring to the government of Cuba, Betancourt stated.

Betancourt remains skeptical regarding claims that drug activity could occur in Cuba without the knowledge and cooperation of the Cuban government.

“Anyone who knows anything about how Cuba works knows this is false,” Betancourt said.

The Castro government continues to declare its opposition to the drug trade, and in 1989 even prosecuted one of its top generals.

Statements made by two Cuban drug smugglers, Reinaldo Ruiz and his son Ruben, in 1989, following their convictions for their activities, pointed directly to the cooperation of the Cuban government in drug trafficking.

According to Betancourt, whose Radio Marti report interviewed Reinaldo Ruiz, the smuggler would drop his cargo “off the Cuban coast near the Bahamas,” where speedboats known as “lancheros” would retrieve them.

The Cuban Coast Guard would monitor U.S. Coast Guard activities and assist the “lancheros” in evading U.S. patrol craft.

Ruiz was allowed to land and refuel in Cuba and at times was taken to Havana as a guest of the Cuban government.

Ruiz’s cousin, Capt. Miguel Ruiz Poo, assisted in making the smuggling arrangements. Poo’s commander, Col. Tony de la Guardia, was in charge, establishing links with Colombian drug lords and studying the feasibility of money laundering.

Gen. Arnaldo T. Ochoa Sanchez oversaw the general drug smuggling operations.

Shortly after Ruiz’s revelations concerning Cuba and drug smuggling, Ochoa – who posed a challenge to Castro’s one-man rule – as well as Poo and de la Guardia were executed.

The Cuban government did, however, follow de le Guardia’s suggestion for money laundering in Cayo Largo.

Betancourt told WorldNetDaily that he has edited a book by Norberto Fuentes providing an in-depth examination of Castro’s involvement in drug trafficking with the Spanish title “Narcotrafico y Tareas Revolucionarias.” No date has yet been set for the English translation.

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