Doug Farah's recent articles [May 25] recounted an isolated case in 1996 when Cuban authorities seized a cocaine-laden boat that had drifted into Cuban waters after being overtaken by the U.S. Coast Guard. But that tale paints a distorted picture of Fidel Castro's brush with cocaine.

Just last December, seven tons of cocaine bound for Havana were seized by Colombian police. That huge shipment, consigned to a Cuban state-owned joint venture, could not have been the first or only one of its kind.

Remember that in 1988 U.S. prosecutors uncovered a cocaine-smuggling ring that implicated Fidel Castro personally. Feeling the heat, Fidel Castro choreographed a show trial to pin the charges on trusted key aides, army Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez and interior ministry Col. Antonio de la Guardia. Mr. de la Guardia's family contends that the smuggling had Fidel Castro's blessing and that the Cuban leader visited the men in jail to dangle leniency in exchange for silence. Mr. Ochoa, Mr. de la Guardia and two aides cooperated, only to face firing squads in July 1989.

In the 1980s, U.S. prosecutors videotaped traffickers bragging about how Cuban radar boats steered them around U.S. patrols. One astonished drug pilot recalled a rendezvous with a Cuban MiG, which led him to a Cuban military air base to refuel.

Today, at least three senior Cuban officials are wanted on Interpol warrants for drug smuggling. According to a U.S. indictment, Fernando Ravelo Renedo, Cuba's ambassador to Colombia in the early 1980s, and his deputy, Gonzalo Bassols Suarez, conspired with Colombian guerrillas on cocaine-for-arms deals using Cuban territory. The third fugitive, Cuban navy Vice Adm. Aldo Santamaria Cuadrado, stands accused of escorting drug shipments in Cuban waters.

Mr. Farah's articles ignore several practical roadblocks to anti-drug cooperation with Fidel Castro. FBI Director Louis Freeh has told Congress that the Cuban leader harbors 90-plus fugitives from U.S. justice (including an infamous cop-killer and others on drug charges). Cooperating with the hemisphere's most notorious human rights violator surely will draw the ire of those who excoriate such ties to Colombian security forces. And if Cuba's interdiction force is ill-equipped, will we be expected to give aid to the same Cuban coast guard that in 1994 sank a fleeing Cuban tugboat, drowning two dozen escaping refugees? Will we be asked to upgrade the radar for an air force that shot down two U.S. civilian aircraft in 1996?



The writer is a senior professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.