Arnaldo Ochoa — a Problem For Castro Brothers 25 Years Ago 4

Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989 (Courtesy: Miami Herald Archives)

Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989 (Courtesy: Miami Herald Archives)

Castro’s fears led to a revolutionary hero’s execution and drunken binges by his brother Raúl, according to a former security officer.

By Juan O. Tamayo

Fidel Castro was so afraid of a revolt in Cuba’s most elite paramilitary unit that he ordered his motorcade to avoid driving past its base, his top bodyguard at the time says. Raúl Castro was so depressed that he was going on drunken benders and soiling his pants.

Cuba’s top military hero, Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa, had been executed by firing squad for drug smuggling. And a longtime member of Fidel’s innermost circle, Interior Minister José Abrantes, was in jail awaiting trial for failing to stop the trafficking.

That summer 25 years ago posed one of the toughest challenges ever for the Castro brothers — to show that their top deputies had trafficked drugs without their consent, and to avert a backlash from other soldiers who believed the Castros were lying.

“That was the drop that overflowed my glass,” said Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, 65, who served 17 years on Fidel’s personal security detail and now lives in Miami. “That he would send to the firing squad a man who was a true hero.”

Ochoa, 59, was Cuba’s top military icon. He was a veteran of campaigns in Angola, Venezuela, Ethiopia and Nicaragua, had won the country’s highest honor, Hero of the Revolution, and sat on the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Nevertheless, he was executed on July 13, 1989, along with three senior officers of the Ministry of the Armed Forces and Ministry of the Interior (MININT), after a military court convicted them of drug smuggling and treason.

Ochoa was not plotting to overthrow Fidel, as was rumored at the time, said Sánchez, who in 1989 stood at Fidel’s elbow as keeper of the diary of the Cuban leader’s daily activities. Ochoa did not have the troops or the means to carry out a coup, he added.

But evidence presented at their trial showed that Ochoa and the three others who were executed — Antonio de la Guardia, Jorge Martinez and Amado Bruno Padron — had arranged cocaine shipments through Cuba and to the United States for Colombia’s Medellin cartel.

Abrantes, one of Fidel’s oldest and closest aides, a former head of his security detail and a general, was arrested later with six other MININT officers for failing to stop the drug traffic and corruption. He died of a heart attack in 1991 while serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Fidel had approved Abrantes’ involvement in drug trafficking, Sánchez alleged. And Raúl, then minister of defense, had approved Ochoa’s involvement. Military Counter-Intelligence (CIM), which reported directly to Raúl, had to have known of Ochoa’s activities, yet no CIM agent turned up at either trial as defendant or witness.

 Feature continues here: General Arnaldo Ochoa


  1. The Herald seems to have comments turned off for this article, so we’ll comment here. Great blog, by the way.

    Nothing in the Castro crime syndicate happens without the brothers knowing about it and taking a cut of it. Any assertion about lack of their knowledge or consent in drug trafficking is unlikely to be true.

    Perhaps the root cause of the matter, aside from 8A’s popularity with the troops (and in Cuba any hero aside from Fidel is soon a dead hero), is much more personal.

    In the events leading up to Ochoa’s execution, Raul went to Angola to inspect the troops. Before arrival, Ochoa notified his commanders via encrypted radiogram, in which he stated “el maricon” was on his way. This is probably a correct characterization but still offends the Castro branding. South African intelligence intercepted, decrypted, and leaked the radiogram, which of course made its way back to La Habana. Or perhaps the RSA simply made up the released text as disinformation, but the effect is the same: no more Ochoa, a very strategic improvement for RSA in the Angolan proxy war by removal of a competent general.

    Ochoa wasn’t removed for commission of smuggling, it was that he committed heresy and personal insult, and paid for it with his life, dying as yet another pawn in the “cold” war that ran very hot at times for Cuba.

  2. As usual, ENH reporter Tamayo wrote a fairy tale from a Castro’s bodyguard who overheard conversations between Fidel and Raul and also between Fidel and his Minister of interior about Colombian drug trafficking. By focusing in the gossip, Tamayo missed the main point: General Ochoa wasn’t executed under charge of drug trafficking, simply because there wasn’t death penalty for such a felony in the Cuban law at that time. The prosecutor must make the pirouette of charging Ochoa with hostile acts against foreign states in order to have them killed by firing squad. And that’s the key of the case: the court ruled the same and it became a judicial assassination. The deeper cause is actually what Mr. Durakov has explained above.

  3. Ochoa as well as La Guardia Brothers were involved in Narco activity as well as trafficking firearms to the Guerrillas of Nicaragua and the Salvadorian Guerrillas all these operation were ordered by Castro.Ochoa was involved together with the La Guardia Brothers in every dirty operation the Castro Brothers planned and everything with the approval of the Dictators,of course.Ochoa was a member of Camilo Cienfuegos Guerrilla during the war against Batista.

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