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Cuban Hero Sentenced to Death in Drug Scandal

From Reuters

A three-star general who fought alongside President Fidel Castro during the Cuban revolution and three other officers were sentenced to death today for drug trafficking.

After deliberating for two days on a scandal that has rocked the Communist government and was described as treason, a military tribunal also sentenced 10 other defendants, all army and state security officers, to long prison terms, the state news agency AIN reported.

In his summation Tuesday, prosecutor Gen. Juan Escalona said the defendants had “stuck a dagger into the back of the nation and the people.”

One of the four sentenced to face a firing squad was Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, former head of Cuban military forces in Angola and Ethiopia and a hero of Castro’s 1959 Communist revolution.

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Some diplomats expect Castro to pardon Ochoa. European diplomatic sources said Castro hinted at the possibility of clemency over a six-hour lunch last week with European Community countries’ ambassadors.

An earlier military hearing recommended that Ochoa be tried for high treason, and Ochoa during the trial said that he had committed treason “and one pays for treason with his life.”

Ochoa and the 13 others were charged with embezzlement and helping Colombia’s notorious Medellin drug cartel to smuggle six tons of cocaine into the United States. They were said to have accepted about $3.4 million in bribes.

Castro had consistently denied charges by Washington of Cuban links to drug traffickers.

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The prosecutor in Cuba’s biggest scandal in 30 years had requested death sentences for seven of the defendants, saying that they “challenged the credibility of Fidel Castro.”

The three others sentenced to die are Ochoa’s aide, Capt. Jorge Martinez; Col. Antonio de la Guardia, and Maj. Amado Padron, who was under Ochoa’s command.

De la Guardia headed a top-secret department of Cuban intelligence entrusted with circumventing the U.S. economic embargo against the Caribbean island-state.

The military court handed out sentences ranging from 10 to 30 years to the 10 other defendants.

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The 14 were dismissed from their respective services following their arrest last month.


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