The Bugle

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A freelance reporter whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Observer, and WBGO-FM, Newark. Email: njbugle@yahoo.com

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Grand Jury Questions 5 N.J. Men In Cuban Bombing Role

EXCLUSIVE – Must credit The Bugle and Jonathan Miller

See my related New York Observer article : “In New Jersey Contest, A Senator With Tough Friends.”

By JONATHAN MILLER

UNION CITY, N.J. -- Five New Jersey men, some of whom had previously been accused of plotting and financing terror activities in Cuba, have been called before a federal grand jury in Newark.

The men, all North Jersey residents, appeared in September. A separate grand jury has also been convened in Texas. It is unclear precisely what the grand juries are investigating, but many of the men who appeared in September had in the past been linked to bombings and plots against Cuba, and in one case the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba.

The Atlantic Monthly first reported the news of the empanelling of the grand juries for its November issue.

One of the men has been a prominent donor and fund-raiser for Robert Menendez, the Senator from New Jersey.

The attorney for the five men, Gilberto M. Garcia, said that none were involved in terror attacks in Cuba, nor did they have knowledge of their funding or had any other ties to terrorism. None of the men has ever been charged with any crime.

“My clients were not part of any financing,” he said in a recent interview. “They had no knowledge whatsoever.” He added: “None of them have anything to hide. These guys are patriots.”

The men who appeared before the grand jury included Abel Hernandez, a restaurant owner in Union City; Oscar Rojas, the former accountant for a deceased businessman named Arnaldo Monzon; a father and son, Ruben and Jose Gonzalo, of Union City; and Angel Alfonso Aleman, a man who once claimed responsibility for attempting to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro, but was acquitted in 1999 by a jury in Puerto Rico.

The F.B.I. had previously questioned all five men, according to Mr. Garcia.

Three of the men who testified had their names appear on a mysterious fax intercepted by a businessman in Guatemala in 1997. That fax, first reported in The New York Times, came in the midst of a series of bombings of hotels in Cuba, which resulted in the death of an Italian tourist.

The fax complained about the lack of coverage of the attacks in the U.S. media. It also made instructions to have four men -- Mr. Hernandez, Ruben Gonazalo, Jose Gonzalo, and a “Pedro Perez” -- wire $800 each to “liquidate the account for the hotel.”

The man who claimed authorship of the fax, Luis Posada Carriles, is an exile implicated in terror activities around the world. He told The Times in 1998 that he was concerned that the men named "could get in trouble for this." Mr. Posada is now imprisoned in Texas for entering the country illegally. Mr. Hernandez had previously denied any knowledge of Mr. Posada or having sent money to him.

Mr. Hernandez has donated $10,700 to Sen. Menendez's campaigns over the years.

As for the fourth name on the fax, Mr. Garcia said that it was a fake. “Pedro Perez did not exist,” he said. “It was a decoy, that person.” He would not elaborate further. He confirmed the names of the men who appeared only after a reporter presented them to him, and said he was troubled by them being named in an article.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney declined comment.

Many of the men who appeared before the grand jury have unusual histories.

In 1997, Mr. Alfonso, an employee for the Department of Public Works in West New York, N.J., was aboard a boat with three other men off the coast of Puerto Rico. U.S. Coast Guard authorities intercepted the boat and boarded it. When confronted by the authorities, Mr. Alfonso told them that they were there to assassinate Fidel Castro. The Coast Guard found night vision equipment and two sniper rifles aboard the ship, among other weapons.

Another man who testified in September, Oscar Rojas, was a former accountant to Arnaldo Monzon, who died in 2000. Mr. Monzon owned a chain of clothing stores in the New York region, but was accused by Cuban officials in 1998 of helping to finance and plot bombings in Cuba. Mr. Monzon denied the accusations. He had been a prominent donor to Sen. Menendez’s campaigns, contributing $4,000, and had served on a steering committee for his campaign for mayor in 1982.

In June, Jose Antonio Llama, a former member of the influential Florida-based Cuban American National Foundation, said that Mr. Monzon and Mr. Alfonso were part of a secret paramilitary wing of the organization, created in the 1990’s, that was plotting to attack Cuba and eventually overthrow Mr. Castro. The CANF has denied knowledge of any such group. Mr. Garcia, the attorney, called Mr. Llama “a traitor,” if his allegations are true.

In their testimony, Mr. Garcia said some of his clients invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. Others were offered immunity but refused and testified, and others testified directly. He would not say what the men told the grand jury, other than that they had no knowledge of the financing of the plots.

U.S. officials have been grappling over how to deal with Mr. Posada -- a Cuban exile who was trained by the C.I.A. for the botched Bay of Pigs invasion. As the years have passed, Mr. Posada has increasingly been linked to acts of terror against Cuba. In their 1998 series on Mr. Posada and exile militants, New York Times writers Ann Louise Bardach and Larry Rohter quoted from previously undisclosed C.I.A. documents from the 1970's that strongly suggested Mr. Posada and another exile, Orlando Bosch, had prior knowledge of a plot to bomb a Cuban civilian airliner in 1976. That bombing killed 73 people. *

In 2005, Mr. Posada entered the U.S. illegally and was later arrested by immigration officials. Authorities from Cuba and Venezuela have requested his extradition, but the U.S. has refused. U.S. officials have also attempted to have him deported to another country, but at least seven thus far have refused.


*Paragraph edited to reflect proper credit

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