Castro Talks of Death Plot

Sat. November 18, 2000 12:00 AM by Brian Decker

Panama City, Panama - Cuban President Fidel Castro said Friday that a U.S. Cuban exile group is plotting to kill him in Panama, where he is attending an international summit. Police said later that four people had been detained in connection with the alleged plot.

At a news conference held at the hotel where he is staying during the 10th Ibero-American summit of Latin American and European leaders, Castro said the Miami-based Cuban-American National Foundation ``has sent people to Panama with the purpose of eliminating me physically.'' ``They are already in Panama and they have introduced weapons and explosives,'' he said.

After Castro leveled his charges, Panama police detained Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles and three others for questioning in connection with the alleged plot. Police Chief Carlos Bares said the four were detained at a local hotel, that they had arrived in Panama on Wednesday and that there were no guns found in their possession. They can be held for up to 24 hours.

In his comments, Castro claimed that the squad plotting to kill him was directed by Posada, whom he called ``a cowardly man totally without scruples.''

The Cuban-American National Foundation said it has no links to Posada. Ninoska Perez, a spokeswoman for the Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami, said the group has no one in Panama and that Castro ``should get a new story.'' ``He has accused us of everything in the book. There is no reason why we should have to respond to unfounded accusations,'' she said. ``He is the terrorist. They are accusations without proof. Where are the people he's talking about?''

Castro repeated previous claims that Posada organized the 1976 bombing of a Cubana de Aviacion jetliner that killed 73 people, as well as several other plots against his own life.

Posada was twice acquitted of bombing the Cubana airliner. He spent nine years in a Venezuelan prison before escaping in 1985.

Castro said Cuban officials would make a formal report to Panamanian authorities. Panamanian Interior Minister Winston Spadafora said he had learned of the allegation earlier in the day and said Panamanian intelligence chief Pablo Quintero Luna had been sent to speak with Cuban security about the issue. He said Castro ``has had his advance security in Panama for several months. He has been offered all security and all cooperation.''

Castro, 74, veered between the grim and the almost playful as he joked that there had been ``about 600'' attempts on his life.

Castro's statement overshadowed the start of the Ibero-American summit of 19 Latin American countries along with Spain and Portugal.

In brief remarks at his arrival, Castro praised Panama for achieving ``full sovereignty'' with the December 1999 handover of the formerly U.S.-owned Panama Canal and the departure of U.S. troops, who maintained a presence in the country for 97 years.

``Today everything has changed,'' Castro said after shaking hands with President Mireya Moscoso. ``There are no troops shooting on students and the people of Panama own its canal and administer it excellently.''

Host of the previous Ibero-American Summit, Castro opened this year's session with a speech about the meeting's topic, the problems of children in Latin America.

Two presidents said they would not be able to attend: Peru's Alberto Fujimori and Nicaragua's Arnoldo Aleman.

El Salvador proposed a resolution condemning political violence, especially that of the Basque separatist group ETA in Spain, but Cuba reportedly balked at singling out ETA.