Cuban exiles linked to Mexican gangs

A scandal is brewing that connects rightwing Cuban exiles in the United States with violent Mexican drug gangs trained by the U.S. military. The story first broke in the leftwing Mexico City daily, La Jornada. On June 12, 33 undocumented Cuban immigrants and four Central Americans were picked up by Mexican immigration authorities. A gang of armed men held up the bus transporting the immigrants and kidnapped them.

However, the incident in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas was no common crime, because within a short period of time 18 of the migrants materialized safe and sound in Texas. What the U.S. government will now do with them is not yet clear. The whereabouts of the other migrants are not known.

Mexican authorities, embarrassed by having their prisoners snatched in such a blatant way, opened a major investigation which so far has resulted in the arrest of four people. Two of these were low level Mexican officials who are accused of accepting bribes in order to allow the caper to go forward unhindered.

The other two arrested are Nairobi Claro and Noriel Veloz, Cubans who, according to La Jornada, admitted they are operatives of an anti-Castro group, the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), based in Miami.

The Cuban American National Foundation issued a statement denying any involvement or connection with Claro and Veloz, and demanded a retraction and apology from La Jornada. The reporter and newspaper are standing by their story. La Jornada reported that Claro and Veloz, who were arrested off the Yucatan Peninsula by Mexico’s Navy, were part of the group that brought the Cubans into Mexico in the first place. Claro and Veloz refused to be released on bail for fear that assassins from CANF will kill them when they step out into the street.

The Cuban government has for some time been warning of links between the Gulf Cartel, which controls much of the drug trade along the U.S.-Mexico border, and what it calls the “Miami Mafia” of violent rightwing Cuban exiles.

A variety of Mexican media report that the actual snatch job was carried out by “Los Zetas,” a criminal gang of ex-army officers trained by the U.S. for anti-drug action. Once trained, the Zetas broke away from the Mexican military and formed one of the most formidable and violent gangs involved with drug smuggling on the U.S.-Mexico border. If indeed Los Zetas were responsible for the snatch job and for slipping the Cubans across the U.S. border, it has serious implications for the Bush administration.

The U.S. Congress is on the way to approving a $400 million package of military and crime fighting aid for Mexico. President Bush had lobbied for this package, called the “Merida Initiative,” on the basis of the threat to the U.S. posed by Mexican drug gangs. Now it appears the coddled Cuban exile organizations allied to rightwing U.S. politicians may have a hand in the border carnage.