Jailed American Said to Have Identified Man Who Blew Up Cuban Airliner
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ The government claims a man identified by a captured American as a CIA employee who coordinated rebel supply flights is responsible for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people.
Deputy Interior Minister Luis Carrion Cruz, at a news conference Wednesday at the Managua presidential offices, said pictures of the man once jailed in the airliner bombing were identified last week by captured American Eugene Hasenfus.
Shown the photos of Luis Posada, Hasenfus identified the man as ″a person that he understands is Ramon Medina,″ Carrion said, but refused to reveal his other sources that caused the government to conclude that Medina’s real identity is Posada.
Carrion said Hasenfus, 45, of Marinette, Wis., told the Nicaraguan secret police that ″Ramon Medina is really Luis Posada Carriles, responsible for the blowing up of a Cubana de Aviacion″ plane on a commercial flight from Venezuela to Cuba.
The plane blew up shortly after takeoff from a stopover in Barbados, killing all 73 on board.
Most of the passengers were Cuban athletes returning from a fencing tournament in Caracas, Venezuela.
Hasenfus, captured after Sandinista troops in southern Nicaragua shot down a rebel supply flight Oct. 5, said that Medina and another Cuban-American, Max Gomez, worked for the CIA and coordinated rebel arms supply flights from Ilopango, El Salvador’s military airport.
Asked for comment about the report, Jake Gillespie, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in El Salvador, said: ″I know nothing about it.″
President Reagan and other U.S. officials have denied government involvement in the Contra rebel supply flights, which would violate congressional restrictions on aid to the groups fighting Nicaragua’s leftist government.
Posada was jailed for eight years in Venezuela for the 1976 bombing, but escaped under mysterious circumstances last year and disappeared.
″Later, we learned that Luis Posada was in El Salvador using the pseudonym of Ramon Medina,″ Carrion said, adding that Posada is ″not only a long-term criminal terrorist but is also a long-term CIA agent.″
Hasenfus told Nicaraguan authorities that Medina liked to brag about being a personal friend of Vice President George Bush, Carrion said.
But Carrion also said, ″We did not find in the (downed) airplane any type of documents that directly tie Vice President Bush to the operation.″
Published reports have said Bush’s national security adviser Donald Gregg helped place Gomez at Ilopango and that Gomez told associates he reported to Bush in his role as head of the Contra air supply operation.
Bush has denied he directed the operation, but said he met Gomez three times and that ″he’s a patriot.″
Gregg also denied directing Gomez.
Carrion said the Nicaraguan government learned through Hasenfus and other sources that one of Medina’s jobs was to ″take care of procedures to get documents in the United States Embassy, obviously for the American personnel in El Salvador.″
Such cards for pilot William J. Cooper and co-pilot Wallace Blaine Sawyer Jr., both Americans and both killed in the crash of the supply plane, were displayed last week.
Carrion did not specify what he meant by American personnel, but was apparently referring to the 24 to 26 Americans in El Salvador that Hasenfus said worked for Corporate Air Services, a Miami-based company.
The Nicaraguan official said Hasenfus told interrogators that Corporate Air ″was a front name for CIA.″
However, Carrion said Hasenfus also is telling his interrogators that no one in El Salvador ever introduced himself as a CIA officer.
Carrion said Hasenfus ″does not feel an obligation to conceal or retain any information he knows about this operation.
″He has been speaking out of his (free) will,″ Carrion said. ″He said that he was willing to cooperate because this wasn’t his war, that he got into this because he needed money....″
Hasenfus had said last week he was offered $3,000 a month to work in Central America, but Carrion said he also earned $750 for every time he ″flew over the Nicaraguan border″ in addition to base salary.
Carrion said that the Nicaraguan government shortly ″will officially announce all the details of the judicial process that Mr. Hasenfus will follow.″
The government has not formally charged Hasenfus, but officials said he is likely to be accused of war crimes and could face 30 years in prison.