The Long, Sordid Saga Of Cuban Drug Trafficking & US Looking The Other Way
All specific information omitted in this article has been done in the interest of protecting the identity of the FBI’s cooperating witness.
In 1999, during President Clinton’s administration, the FBI was investigating a case where the Cuban government was directly involved in drug trafficking. It definitely was, and the ring leader was Cuban General Ramiro Valdes Menendez, a “Hero of the Cuban Revolution,” a loyal ally of Fidel Castro since 1953 when he was a member of Castro’s insurgents who attacked the Cuban Army’s Moncada Barracks. That loyalty has endured over 60 years, and the Castro brothers have rewarded Valdes with many high-level positions in the Cuban government, to include Minister of Interior, the powerful overlord of the Cuban internal security services. He’s been a member of the Cuban Communist Party’s Politburo since 1965.
Ramiro Valdes and Fidel Castro
In 2000, a highly credible FBI cooperating witness (CW), a foreign national (name and nationality are known, but omitted) thoroughly vetted by the FBI, was an eyewitness to a one-on-one meeting between Valdes and Colombian Cali Cartel chief Miguel Rodriguez Abadia in Havana, Cuba and the CW provided convincing reporting on the Cuban government’s complicity in international drug trafficking. Valdes was in the uniform pictured above during the meeting. After the CW watched Valdes and Rodriguez meet in a public setting (exact place and date known, but omitted), Rodriguez returned to the CW’s table and later that day offered the following information tied to the Cali Cartel’s drug shipments through Cuba. Here are some details. (There’s a simple explanation of WHY Rodriguez gave this information to the CW. He fully trusted the CW as a confidant because they both were planning a multi-ton shipment of cocaine to the U.S. through Mexico. The name of the Mexican organization and some of the Mexicans involved are known, but omitted.)
Cali drug shipments were originally sent to Cuba via fishing vessels, but now most of the shipments were flown into Cuba by DC-3 cargo aircraft departing air strips in Venezuela. Valdes dictated these terms to Rodriguez Abadia. Note: Castro ally Hugo Chavez was president of Venezuela at the time.
Ramiro Valdes and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Valdes is paid 20% of the value of each shipment on a strict cash-only basis (note: type of currency not reported, but presumably dollars for the cash-strapped, heavily indebted Castro regime). This expense covered securing and offloading the drug shipment upon arrival, transporting it to the port of departure, usually Havana or Matanzas, and onloading the drugs on departing ships. Destination ports were chiefly in Europe, with the Netherlands and Spain topping the list. No drugs transiting Cuba were shipped to the U.S.
No drugs would remain on the island or sold in Cuba.
Valdes controlled the quantity of drugs flown into Cuba, which Rodriguez said was 1,000 to 1,700 kilos of cocaine per shipment, normally sent to Cuba every 10-15 days. Using the least frequent figures provided by Rodriguez to the CW – 1,000 kilos every 15 days – would mean that a minimum of 24 metric tons of Cali Cartel cocaine were moving through Cuba annually. At an $18,000/kilo wholesale price, Valdes’s demand for 20% of the value of the drug shipments for handling charges would generate a minimum of over $86 million in cash of untraceable annual revenue to the Cuban government.
Because of the potential nature of this case (the CW’s direct access to the leader of the Cali Cartel, with conclusive evidence such as phone conversations between the two taped by the FBI), its progress was briefed to FBI Director Louis Freeh and Clinton’s Attorney General, Janet Reno. It is highly likely that this particular portion of the case, the eyewitness account of the meeting between Valdes and Rodriguez, was brought to the attention of President Clinton because of the possible broad political impact on foreign policy between the U.S. and Cuba.
A few words about Cali Cartel chief William Rodriguez Abadia, pictured here.
Pretty nerdy looking guy, eh? He’s a well-educated lawyer, and, although he claims he never murdered anyone or ordered any murders, it is probably not true. Who admits to murder in a media interview, which is when he made this claim? But his father, Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, murdered and his uncle, Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, did also. Plus Jose Santacruz Londono. Those three men were the founders of the Cali Cartel, the world’s most powerful and wealthy criminal organization in the 1980s and 1990s. After his father, uncle, and Santacruz were wrapped up by the Colombian National Police, William took the reins in 1995. In his own words to a U.S. reporter, “I wanted the power.”
He got just that. And more. A year later, in May 1996, he was the target of a vicious hit job during a luncheon in Cali that killed 6 people, but William survived his critical wounds. 5 years later, in 2001, he went into hiding, which coincides with his last contact with the CW (exact date known, but omitted). 5 years after that, in 2006, he surrendered to U.S. authorities, pleaded guilty to certain charges, and cooperated to reduce his sentence to 5 years instead of 20.
Something important happened shortly BEFORE that meeting in Havana between General Valdes and Miguel Rodriguez in 2000. A young Cuban child named Elian Gonzalez arrived in the U.S. in 1999 after his mother and 13 other Cubans tried to flee Cuba. Storms sank the boat they were in, Elian’s mother drowned, but Elian and one other survived, were rescued and brought to the U.S. Via court order, Elian Gonzalez was returned to the Cuban government on June 28, 2000. Who can forget this frightening picture when Elian was forcibly taken at gunpoint from his relatives in Florida and later flown to Cuba?
If the meeting between Valdes and Rodriguez had taken place BEFORE the Gonzalez case was decided, one can imagine that MAYBE Clinton and Reno would have taken a completely different legal path on the Elian Gonzalez case. But even more importantly, both Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright might have moved to a much more hardline approach to relations with Cuba. Might have. Both of them knew, from intelligence information and much publicly available information, that the Cuban government was dead broke and the Cuban economy was in shambles. It would make sense that a desperate Castro would turn to drug trafficking to raise much needed money. And Castro did just that, through his trusted friend and loyal ally, Ramiro Valdes.
Unfortunately, Clinton did nothing for several possible reasons. In the presidential campaign season of the summer of 2000, his second administration was coming to an end in a few months, and he had more important political business to attend, helping Vice President Al Gore get elected. Then there is the fact that in 1999 he eased travel restrictions to Cuba for “cultural exchanges” and approved a 2-game exhibition in Cuba between the Baltimore Orioles and Cuba’s national baseball team. A pivot to a harder line policy on Cuba would have amounted to a rebuke of his own and the Democrat Party’s longstanding efforts to improve relations with Cuba, which started with President Carter’s establishment of mutual “interest sections” in Havana and Washington DC in 1977 and ended with President Obama’s approval of formal diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015.
Post 9/11, there is additional reporting that this case was transferred from the lead FBI field office in the southern US (specific field office is known, but omitted) to the FBI’s field office in Manhattan. Later, the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan, issued an indictment for William Rodriguez Abadia on November 12, 2002. The Cuban aspect of the case was explosive, and the best way to ignore or bury the Cuban angle was to send the case to an FBI office swamped with 9/11 terrorist investigations and turn it over to friendly prosecutors who would focus on leads solely based on U.S – Cali Cartel ties. As noted above, the Cuban government was helping to send the cocaine to Europe, not the U.S. Smart move by the Cubans. No U.S. laws were broken.
At the time of the case transfer, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York was either Mary Jo White (appointed by President Clinton in 1993 and served until January 2, 2002) or James Comey (appointed by President Bush and served January 7, 2002 to December 15, 2003). Comey was the U.S. Attorney when William Rodriguez was indicted. He was Director of the FBI and responsible for the highly controversial decision on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton. Mary Jo White was chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Both were appointees of President Obama.
Today we are left with an international outlaw regime in Cuba, recognized as legitimate by the U.S. government, that has undermined our allies in Europe by helping to send huge shipments of drugs to their countries. Some very important people in our government knew this and said nothing. That is not how a friend treats friends.