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by Jonathan T. Stride
MIAMI - Observers here find it somewhat bizarre that international inspectors were to begin checking out U.S. chemical weapons facilities this past June but apparently have no plans to examine a factory in East Havana, Cuba, which at least one Cuban defector says is a chemical/biological weapons (CBW) plant. The reason for the inspection in this country is because the United States has notified the world Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that it has chemical weapons on hand. No other country has made such an acknowledgment, although several countries-especially Iraq-are believed to have had chemical weapons. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has warned thatIraq's dictator Saddam Hussein has enough anthrax to "kill every man, woman, and child in the world." Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Russia signed it but has not ratified it. Cuba has submitted its CWC ratification papers to the United Nations. Will the United States ask the OPCW to check out Fidel Castro's alleged new CBW) factory in East Havana? The treaty, intended to outlaw the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of chemical weapons entered into force on April 29, a day after Cuba submitted its instrument of ratification. The United States deposited its ratification papers on April 25, after a vigorous debate in the U.S. Senate. The treaty ostensibly permits any country to demand a "challenge" inspection on short notice of any facility suspected of engaging in prohibited activity. When editors of El Nuevo (the New) Herald (Spanish language daily published by the Miami Herald) recently asked the State Department about Cuba in connection with CBW, an unidentified spokesperson responded: "When Cuba ratifies the Convention on Eradication of Chemical Arms, it willpermit the United States to request an inspection if we believe that it is trying to produce these weapons." If the United States demands a challenge inspection of the East Havana factory, which Cuban General of the Army Raul Castro affectionately calls "the little factory" (la fabriquita), will the Castro brothers say that no inspection is needed, since the factory is only for the production of livestock feed? According to information given the writer by a Cuban defector, that's the cover the Cubans use, even though the plant's apparatus is of little use to livestock. Papers given to the writer (and to many officials of the U.S. Government, including Congress members), and translated into English, state that the Havana factory was built to develop CBW weapons, such as a nerve gas. Could it be like that reportedly being readied at this moment by Syria with the help of Russian CBW weapons experts, as reported in the Haaretz newspaper in Israel near the end of April 1997? Or would Castro's little factory be more likely to produce an anthrax toxin like that reportedly being developed by the Russians, according to therespected defense publication known as Jane's. The Jane"s report was noted by the London Daily Telegraph on April 5. The Telegraph article said Jane's Land Based Air Defence 1997-98, published April 3, reported that Russia's new variant of the anthrax toxin is totally resistant to antibiotics and could cause a catastrophe. Jane's said the Russian military arm had developed the toxin and three new nerve agents. The Telegraph said Jane's gave warning of the dangers if the toxin fell into the wrong hands, saying "an Armageddon situation could occur whereby the only reliable retribution may well be overwhelming nuclear response." Jane's said the three nerve agents could be made without using any of the precursor chemicals that are banned under the chemical weapons conventions. Two of those agents are said to be eight times more deadly than the VX nerve agent that Iraq once acknowledged stockpiling, while the other is as toxic as "VX," one of the agents Iraq is said to have. The Wall Street Journal on 25 May 1994 published an article by Vil Mirzayanov, Russian scientist, saying he had been involved in the covert production of a new class of chemical arms. They are called "binary weapons," in that they can use two chemicals (harmless or otherwise) to form a toxic agent when a weapon is exploded. In part, he wrote: "This new weapon, part of the ultra-lethal Novichok (Russian for `Newcomer') class, provides an opportunity for the military establishment to disguise production of components of binary weapons as common agricultural chemicals because the West does not know the formula and its inspectors cannot identify the compounds." Because the Russians have been the Cubans' mentors in the C/BW area for many years, the new information out of Russia raises the possibility that one reason why the Cuban CBW factory built in 1993 is labeled as a livestock feed plant is to give the Cubans a cover story. In that case, the Cubans might correctly say they have agricultural chemicals at the plant. Another reason for an agriculture cover could be that agriculture involves biology, and the CWC does not cover biological weapons. The latter are derived from living organisms, such as bacteria or virus agents, which can attack the human system and sometimes destroy it. Chemical arms, on the other hand, arecomposed of inorganic substances such as chlorine or nerve gas. Other details on Russian activities were published 4 February 1997 in The Washington Times. The Times article, which came from a "secret intelligence report," source not further disclosed, said: "Under a program code-named `Foliant,' a Russian scientific research organization has created a highly lethal nerve agent called A-232, large quantities of which could be made `within weeks' through covert production facilities..." The article also said: "A-232 is made from industrial and agricultural chemicals that are not lethal until mixed and that never had been used for poison gas... "These new agents are as toxic as XV (a persistent nerve agent), as resistant to treatment as Soman (a non-persistent but deadly poison gas) and more difficult to detect and easier to manufacture than VX... "The report says A-232 and its delivery means have `passed Moscow's rigorous military acceptance testing and can be quickly fielded in unitary or binary form... "Russia's State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology created the agents and novel ways of making them to avoid detection by international inspectors. "`By using chemicals not specified in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) schedules, the Russians can produce A-232 and its ethyl analog A-234, in unitary or binary form within several chemical complexes.'... "The Russians can make the binary, or two part, version of the nerve agent using a common industrial solvent acetonitrile and an organic phosphate compound `that can be disguised as a pesticide precursor.' In another version, soldiers need only add alcohol to form the agent, the report says... "Several pesticide plants `offer easy potential for covert production,' the report says. "`For example, substituting amines for ammonia and making other slight modifications in the process would result in new agents instead of pesticide. The similarity in the chemistry of these compounds would make monitoring, inspection and verification difficult.'" The Center for Security Policy (CSP) in Washington, DC, has stated that the above information shows "the Russians are violating their present obligation not to produce chemical weapons and are doing so in ways designed to circumvent the CWC limitations and to defeat even on-site inspection regimes." The Center also said, in a February 4, 1997, Decision Brief, that "for reasons outlined above, the Russian Novichok weapons (and counterpart efforts likely being pursued by other chemical weapon states) are specifically designed to thwart the CWC's `verification tools.'" Iraq's Saddam Hussein has a stock of anthrax, botulin, and other agents of germ warfare that could be released with deadly effect in any city in the United States or Europe, the Telegraph of London reported last September 15. It quoted various experts on the matter, such as Dr.Laurie Mylroie, a former lecturer at the U.S. Naval War College and now a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute of Philadelphia. Saddam and Fidel Castro are said to be friendly allies, with Castro sending medical teams to Iraq ostensibly to show his friendship. Are the Cuban teams part of Castro's CBW apparatus? Anthrax, usually seen in livestock, can cause festering boils, with its victims dying in agony unless treated quickly--if an effective treatment can be found. This "if" raises the question as to whether the anthrax vaccinations planned by the U.S. Department of Defense for U.S. service people will immunize against the new strains of anthrax.The writer does not know whether the Iraqis, Syrians, or Russians are sharing such products with their collaborators in Cuba, but the Russians certainly share information being collected from U.S. communications facilities by means of the Lourdes spy center east of Havana. The Russians are said to have as many as 800 agents at the facility.Agents of the former USSR and of Castro reportedly shared information in connection with the Cubans' alleged use of some kinds of poisonous agents against troops and civilians in Angola in the 1970's and 80's. On this matter, fomer Brigadier General Rafael del Pino, who escaped from Cuba on May 18, 1987, has been quoted as saying that: "During the war of Angola in the decade of the 1970's, our top officials wanted the Soviets to provide them with chemical arms, but these were denied." Del Pino added, however, that "one time there was an experiment with a chemical weapon in a helicopter which ended up being a failure," in Angola. The contradiction in those two sentences was not explained. The long-defunct French-language magazine, Voix D'Afrique, on 6 February 1990 published several photos of deformed people and a text on alleged use by the Cubans of chemical arms against men, women, and children among the Cubans' enemies in Angola in the 1980's. Some sources have alleged that the magazine article was a fabrication of South Africans. The South Africans were involved, along with the United States, in the Angola war, working against the Soviet agents and Cubans. Were the South Africans conducting a propaganda war against the Soviets? Some have speculated that the magazine's photos were of victims of napalm bombs or flame throwers rather than CBW, but the scientist who made the charges said the wounds were not fire burns. El Nuevo Herald has added to suspicions about Cuba by reporting on 4 May 1997 that Guillermo Cueto, identified as a former official of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, told reporters that various investigative centers of Cuba's Academy of Sciences and of its medical branch have experimented with various types of marine toxins, ostensibly to obtain antidotes for diseases, but that they also could be early steps of programs for development of bacteriological weapons. "If Cuba," said Cueto, "is working at the extraction of microtoxins from the ocean or from terrestrial areas, one can guess that this concentration and specialization can be applied to bacteriological warfare." Cueto, international consultant and specialist on Cuba, added, "For chemical arms, all that is needed is to mix agents that may be obtained commercially. "Mixing this with biological agents could provide a very strong lethal power." The Miami daily said that since 1980, the Cuban government has invested millions of dollars in development of scientific investigations and has made concrete steps in the biotechnology field, of which Castro has boasted that his country is a significant power. Cueto told the Miami editors that Cuba has carried out studies on the propagation of microorganisms by means of fumigation aircraft and microjets. The microjet is a system of fumigation by aircraft that may be used to combat crop insects or diseases. "The (Cuban) government has made use of the microjet on land, in the CIGBI facilities, and in the air," Cueto said. "This was a project that was explained privately to high officials of the politburo of the extinct Soviet Union." "During one week," Cueto said, "Castro explained to a Russian official the functions of the microjet."This same system could become the basis for the application of bacteriological weapons, Cueto said.Through genetic engineering, scientists have been able to create new diseases with properties of rapid propagation. The key Cuban institutions dedicated to CBW programs, according to the Herald and former Col. Alvaro Prendes, a decorated pilot who escaped from Cuba in 1994, belong to such agencies as: the Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGBI), the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine (IMTPK), the Center of Medical-Surgical Investigations (CIMEQ), the Center of Neurotransplants (CN) in southeast Havana, near the Victoria de Giron School of Medicine, various laboratories of the Minister of the Interior (MININT), and some military installations.Prendes also says he has heard reports that General Raul Castro uses his farm in western Havana as a source of animals used in various biological experiments.Prendes, organizer and founder of the Union of Free Soldiers and Officers (USOL), composed of military people who have escaped from Cuba, says the biotechnology experiments are partly a cover for experiments in biological weapons.Prendes also says one of Castro's early chemical weapons factories, called Quimonor, reportedly built in the Matanzas province by Soviet technicians in 1981, may still be dedicated to production of lethal chemical arms. According to recent papers smuggled out of Cuba and obtained by the writer, Cuba's supreme commander, Fidel Castro, began staffing what may be his third primary CBW plant-the Little Factory--about April 1994.This presumed third major plant purposely was set up on the back part of arather high mesa just across the street and within a thousand yards of Cuba's premier medical center-the Luis Diaz Soto General Hospital, formerly known as the Naval Hospital. This is one of the hospitals to which the Castro brothers go if they need special treatment.The papers given to the writer on the Little Factory say the naval hospital now does most of the country's medical experimentation. Its work consists of about 75 percent research and only 25 percent for care of patients.The CBW factory, because it sits atop the hill, with cliffs on two sides, reportedly can't easily be observed from the nearby main streets, such as the Via Monumental, and anyone reaching it--and then only with top-secret credentials--must pass through a station of the Cuban Armed Forces (FAR), odd for a place supposedly producing only cattle feed. Publicly, it is called the "Animal-Feed Plant" (Fabrica de Pienso Animal, in Spanish). This does not jibe with details given to U.S. authorities many months ago.When Fidel Castro's brother, General Raul Castro calls the plant the Little Factory, he obviously is using a reverse exaggeration as a joke, since the plant is huge, reportedly covering an area of 120 by 90 meters, i.e., 132 by 99yards, bigger than a couple football fields.For readers who wish to pinpoint the location more closely, the factory's coordinates as best determined by the writer from rough civilian maps are about 23 degrees and 9.2 minutes north, latitude, and 82 degrees and 19.8 minutes, longitude.Castro's Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) already has a non-secret livestock-feed plant some miles outside Havana. Why would FAR build one in the heart of East Havana? Animal feeds are produced with large-scale grinders, crushers, cookers, conveyor belts, and stirrers, items not found in Raul's Little Factory.The FAR's real feed plant lies next to the Managua-Santiago de las Vegas highway in the area known as the Portada. That plant supplies supplements for livestock in the provinces of Havana, Pinar del Rio, and Matanzas. There are many other distinctions between the two factories, not detailed here. Much of the East Havana CBW plant's outdoor electrical work was handled by the Havana Transmission and Distribution Enterprise (ETDH)--the city power company-but regular ETDH workers were entrusted to go only up to a certainpoint--outside the main building limits.The plant's technological phase was finished before December 1993. Among the plant's significant and unusual features: (1) The factory has four separate major water supplies, each from a somewhat different direction and through an 8-inch pipe. One comes from the naval hospital. Another comes from the Company for Major Ceremonies of State (Tiscornia), whose chief is Col. Guerrero Ramos. The third originates in the Institute of Military Medicine, and the fourth stems from the supply for the municipality of East Havana. Water, of course, is essential in any kind of experiments.(2) The plant's main power comes from the National Electric System through Circuit No. C-108 of the Julio A. Mella Substation, located in the area known as Casablanca. Circuit C-108 has the highest national priority, feeding only (a) the unloading zone of the Port of Havana, (b) the naval hospital, the "Cabanya," said to be the location of the Artillery School and the First Unit of the Morro Combatants, (d) the Havana Bay Tunnel, and (e) the little factory. These obviously are all highly strategic areas and are actually shown on international airline maps as lying within the only "prohibited" zone in the city of Havana. The plant also has an auxiliary power supply, including a Soviet-made diesel of 60 kilovolts and another reserve diesel of 600 liters so as to make certain that the cold rooms, the stoves or cookers, and other technological items are never without electricity. All of the internal and external lines at the plant are underground, a rarity in Cuba because of the high cost, except for strategic works of the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR). The major components had to be purchased abroad so as to meet the demands for protection against Cuba's high humidity. The mercury circuit breakers are carefully guarded by concrete walls lined with steel panels-also said to be rare in Havana buildings.(3) One of the prize elements of the factory is a centrifuge of 10,000 RPM. Its purpose is to separate biological micro-organisms, solid substances, and liquids. Such a centrifuge is said to be crucial to development of other biological microorganisms. This machine and most of the other laboratory equipment was bought by Dr. Maria del Pilar from the COMICONDOR company, Milan, Italy. Dr. Pilar, not coincidentally, is not only a key person at the factory and an expert in biochemistry but reportedly a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, the highest ruling organism below Castro and his immediate staff. Dr. Pilar also is known as a scientist who has worked in the development of vaccines against meningitis, some kinds of hepatitis, and African swine fever. Dr. Pilar, under pretext of giving conferences, traveled to Spain, France, and Italy to gather the neededinformation and arrange for equipment purchase for the CBW plant in late 1992. The centrifuge was built at a plant about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Milan, Italy. Although Dr. Pilar went to Italy to get it and other equipment, the actual purchase of some equipment also is said to have involved a Cuban front known as FARMA VENDA, at fifth avenue and 26th street in Miramar, near the Havana sea wall. (4) Another unusual item in the factory is a laboratory bench 50 meters long and 1.2 meters wide. The bench's cream-colored and unpolished tile has an anti-acid surface. Behind the bench are mercury circuit breakers mounted in formica, said to be useful for anti-explosive protection. (5) Tomas Casals usually is the architect for such construction, which was arranged by the Havana Enterprise of Transmission and Distribution (ETDH) But, presumably for secrecy reasons, Casals was displaced by F.H. Trujillo, chiefof tunnel projects and special works of the Council of State-coincidentally an honorary member of Interior Ministry's counterintelligence forces, the G-2 or DSE, part of military counterintelligence (CIM), Office of State Security (DSS), in the Interior Ministry (MININT). (6) Six seems to be a common number for the plant: It has six "stoves" ("estufas" in Spanish), six cold rooms (two for maintenance and four for freezing), and six bell hoods used in laboratory analyses and equipped so as to direct the escape of dangerous gases into the air. The prevailing winds in the area come from the east and southeast, blowing toward the sea. The area has a relatively sparse population. Each of the six sections has its own extraction, heating, and refrigeration equipment. The existence of the six sections is said to explain why the factory needs so much space and make it a massive project, large enough to be able to realize the prolonged tests said to be necessary for microbiological analyses using direct electric currents. These currents range from 12 to 48 volts.(7) As part of extensive fire prevention equipment, the builders installed an overhead water tank that sticks above the roof. (8) One part of the building contains a carefully climatized greenhouse, believed for use in immuno-assay tests with live plants. (9) Close by, at the navy hospital's School of Medicine, in the new school (part of the old School of Artillery) are three pools of cadavers that may be used for additional tests, using human tissue. (The old School of Military Medicine was moved to Cristo de la Bahia, the document notes.) Col. Prendes also says a common source of cadavers is the Psychiatric Hospital of Mazorra, in Havana. It is headed by Commander Bernabe Eduardo Ordaz. Construction of the Havana plant was begun in February 1993 by the Military Enterprise of Strategic Works (EMPI), well known as an important military entity. The EMPI has headquarters on 58th street between 49th and 51st avenues in La Ceiba section of the city of Marianao, a few miles southwest of Havana. Chief of military constructions was Brig. Gen. Irving Ruiz Brito. In part for secrecy purposes, at least three separate groups of workers handled the plant's construction. The first, for architectural preparation, was an ordinary work group. After that, a special EMPI group cleared for strategic works built the unusual water, electrical, and sewage systems. The third group contained only people with the highest security clearance. Among specialists assigned to the project were Hydraulic Engineer Francisco Garcia and Thermoelectrical Engineer Fernando Aguero. Both actually are also counterintelligence officers in the Ministry of Interior (MININT). Another person in a key position was a colonel, name not yet obtained, said to be chief of MINFAR's bacteriological warfare. Another key official was Lt. Col. Valderrama, said to be in charge of strategic construction for EMPI's Company 5. Company 5 specializes in strategic and efficient works for the FAR. Its use was a primary factor in the speed of the plant's construction. To help disguise the nature of the plant, various segments were done in connection with the remodeling of the Morro Fortress at the Havana Harbor, the dining facilities and other internal areas at the naval hospital, and the above-noted extension of the School of Military Medicine at the naval hospital. The primary CBW plant structure was finished in record speed only four months after it was begun. One noted feature was the use of square blocks of 20 centimeters in the outer walls and 15 centimeters in the interior walls. In June, 1993, a bespectacled blonde man of about 45 and known only as "Alexander" was put in charge of installing the laboratory equipment. The laboratory equipment reached Cuba through the port of Barrranquilla in the first four months of 1993, mostly on the ship "Cristina Amary," which flies the Panamanian flag and is owned by the "Melfis Marine Corp." This ship has been managed by two Cuban government fronts known as Cubanacan S.A. and CIMEX S.A. and used for cargoes of interest either to MINFAR or the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). The ship's crew members are Cubans carefully selected or actually employed by the Office of State Security, MININT. After arrival of the lab equipment, the plant was slowly equipped and finally inaugurated in 1993 on Armed Forces Day, Dec. 2. That date commemorates theanniversary of the landing in Cuba of Castro's rag-tag invasion force on a boat called Granma in 1956.The Havana factory is well protected by rapid action defense units. The hospital area is inside the FAR's north coastal fringe defense zone. Are the papers genuine which were given to the writer? Not having access to data from the U.S. Department of Defense or the Central Intelligence Agency, both of which also have been given the information, the writer can only speculate that there seems to be no particular motive as to why so many details would be invented, including names, dates, and places. What would be the purpose of fabricating such data if they were not true? The source who provided the papers has no connection to groups of Cuban exiles in Miami and, in fact, has avoided them for fear of being detected by Castro assassins, of whom there are plenty in Miami, according to this and many other sources.This source refuses to identify itself, and wants no more to do with the U.S. government since providing the material. The source also has family in Cuba, for which it also fears greatly. These are the reasons given as to why thesource refuses to be identified. The source, of course, could be dragged before a Congressional committee and asked to testify. But the source has told the writer to expect resistance to such a move because of the source's terror. Would Castro dare attack the Goliath country to his north? Some of Col. Prendes' associates from Cuba, requesting not to be identified, have stated that Castro continues in an offensive mode against the United States, an offensive he first expressed in a 1953 letter to his long-time and closest female companion, Celia Sanchez. Castro seems to have had a special hatred of the United States ever since the CIA cut off a subsidy to him in 1956 when he refused a U.S. request to give up his scheme to invade Cuba from Mexico. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Castro urged Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev to launch a nuclear bomb strike against the United States. His advice, of course, was rejected. Castro more recently has said that he doesn't care what happens to Cuba after he is gone.One military exile recently told the Herald, "I have been in reunions with Castro where he insisted that if it occurred to the United States to attack Cuba, Florida would be destroyed in seconds."As soon as Cuba began losing the backing of the Soviets, so that he could no longer replenish his arms, Castro began to prepare for the development of biological weapons, which may be effective without use of an army." Several observers have told the writer that they thought Castro was giving a clear signal to the United States last January 28 when he said, "This lamb can not ever be devoured, neither with airplanes, nor with smart bombs, because this lamb has more intelligence than you and in its blood there is and always will be poison for you!" (Emphasis added.) These words were part of his speech when he showed his fury over the U.S. plan announced earlier to seek as much as $8 billion for reconstruction of Cuba-without the Castro brothers. Prendes says, "We can not underestimate the danger of Castro, a paranoid schizophrenic." Also indicative of Castro's state of mind were events of February 24, 1996, when Cuban war planes shot down two unarmed U.S. civilian aircraft over international waters because they belonged to the anti-Castro pilots' group known as Brothers to the Rescue, headed by Jose J. Basulto. Then-National Security Adviser Anthony Lake asked the Pentagon what military options existed to respond to Castro's aggression. "They said it would be a bad idea," one unidentified official told the Miami Herald. "Cuba is only 90 miles from Florida and they have a chemical and biological capacity and we have a nuclear plant (at Turkey Point, southwest of Miami). It would be likely that we would lose more people than in Iraq" with an air attack. When asked to be more specific about the chemical-biological capacity, the unidentified official told the paper's reporters, "There are no proofs that Cuba has or is developing" C/B weapons, but it does have very modernlaboratories which could be used for such purposes if there were an armed conflict. Del Pino said Castro always has considered the Turkey Point nuclear plant as a preferred bull's eye in Florida. In 1968, Castro sent Del Pino to the Homestead Air Force Base south of Miami to recover a MiG 17 that had been deserted by a defecting Cuban pilot. Del Pino added, "Of course the airplane in which I was taken to Homestead was full of cameras and we took photos of everything, including the nuclear plant. It was after that when Fidel told me, `You, who were there, tell me whether could we give a responsive blow to the Americans with demolition bombs to destroy that plant?'" Del Pino said he told Castro that bombing was a possibility, "but I pointed out to him that after that the whole of Cuba would have to have an umbrella of iron. And Fidel replied that at least the Americans would remember us for therest of their lives." Ironically, the Cuban government has expressed preoccupation about the possibility of the United States' having chemical weapons at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, near the east end of Cuba. When Cuba sent its papers for ratification of the chemical weapons convention, it said it could not assume responsibility for possible chemical weapons on that portion of Cuban territory which has been "usurped for the naval base and over which we do not exercise jurisdiction." Cuba also recently accused the United States of waging biological war on the island by spreading a fog that began an infestation of an Asian insect called "thrips palmi." The State Department calls the charges outrageously untrue. Our Cuban informant has told the writer that still another factory, which could be Cuba's fourth major CBW factory, was to have begun functioning in the spring of 1995 near another military hospital, the one known as Carlos J. Finlay. That CB factory was to be disguised as an expansion of the hospital's pediatrics department. Of course, if these charges are false, then all Castro has to do to disprove them is to allow U.S. and international inspectors to visit the Little Factory and the Carlos J. Finlay hospital's pediatrics department.
The author has been free-lance writing for some 45 years and has degrees from the University of Oregon and Pepperdine University.