Rifles seized in plot to kill Castro

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The Independent Online
One of two sniper rifles seized in a suspected plot to kill the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, was purchased by the president of a leading anti-Castro group, a newspaper reported.

Francisco Hernandez, the second-ranked official at the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, bought the weapon in 1994, the Miami Herald reported yesterday. The newspaper cited FBI records in its report. The second rifle was bought by Miami exile Juan Evelio Pou, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion, FBI records cited by the newspaper said.

The two .50-calibre rifles were seized by the United States Coast Guard on 27 October aboard a Miami-based yacht carrying four Cuban exiles off Puerto Rico.

Agents also found ammunition and military supplies aboard the vessel, which had developed mechanical problems and had begun to take on water.

The four were charged with failing to report the guns. But a US 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 President Castro during a November summit meeting on the Venezuelan island of Margarita.

Although the Havana government has repeatedly accused the exile foundation and its members of financing armed attacks on Cuba, this is the first time a foundation official has been linked in an FBI investigation to an alleged plot against Cuba. Mr Hernandez ranks second in command behind acting chairman Alberto Hernandez, who took over leadership of the anti- Castro group following the death last month of its founder, Jorge Mas Canosa.

A spokesman for the foundation said Saturday he couldn't reach Mr Hernandez and declined to comment. Mr Pou did not return the Herald's telephone calls. Neither man has been charged in the case.

l President Fidel Castro agreed at a six-hour meeting with Cuban Catholic leaders last week to grant the Church television airtime ahead of Pope John Paul's historic trip next month, Cardinal Jaime Ortega said in an interview with La Repubblica yesterday.