SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- A spate of bombings in Cuba this summer was the work of a ring of Salvadoran car thieves and armed robbers directed and financed by Cuban exiles in El Salvador and Miami, a two-month investigation by the Miami Herald shows.
The ring's leader is reputed to be Francisco Chavez, son of an arms dealer with close ties to Cuban exiles. Chavez may have been in Havana just hours before the first bomb exploded at the luxury Melia Cohiba Hotel.
The Salvadorans were only delivery boys for the bombs, paid and taught to assemble the explosives by a Cuban exile -- a man in his 30s who has participated in several other anti-Castro operations in Central and South America, according to the Herald.
Luis Posada Carriles, an explosives expert in his 60s and a veteran of the Cuban exiles' secret war against President Fidel Castro, is reported to be the key link between El Salvador and the South Florida exiles who raised $15,000 for the operation.
The Herald inquiry involved dozens of interviews with security officials, friends of the bombers, Cuban exiles and others in El Salvador, Miami, Guatemala and Honduras. The Salvadoran interviews were in cooperation with the newspaper Diario de Hoy.
The 11 bombings of Cuban tourist hotels and a restaurant from April 12 to Sept. 4, which killed one Italian tourist and wounded six other people, unleashed a huge upheaval on an island that had not seen political violence like it since the early 1960s.
Cuban police arrested a Salvadoran, Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, 26, and charged him in six of the bombings. Yet Salvadoran police have made little headway investigating the case, perhaps because of the close ties between the theft ring and senior military officials.
Police have not talked with any of the dozen Salvadorans knowledgeable about the bombings who were interviewed by the Herald. All demanded anonymity, saying they feared retaliation from Chavez or members of his family.
"No sense risking my life when I know nothing will happen to the guilty," one of the Salvadorans said.
Salvadoran officials privately admit the Cruz Leon case has not been investigated vigorously.
Pub Date: 11/16/97