Testimony of interpreter in downing of airliner is released after 30 years
Early in the morning of Thursday, Oct. 7, 1976, Cpl. Oscar King of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service was summoned to the office of Assistant Police
Commissioner Randolph Burroughs at the Criminal Investigation Department in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
There, Burroughs told King he needed his services as Spanish-language interpreter because he needed to interrogate two Spanish-speaking men who may have been
involved in the blowing up of a Cubana de Aviación airliner the previous day, off the coast of Barbados, that took the lives of 73 people. The men had been arrested
at a hotel in Port-of-Spain after returning from Barbados and arousing the suspicion of police.
Corporal King's account of the interrogation and its aftermath became public knowledge 30 years later, on Oct. 5, 2006, when The National Security Archive
obtained and published his declassified testimony and that of three other Trinidad officials who investigated the case. Progreso Weekly has redacted King's testimony
and combined it with the testimony of the other officials.
Much has happened and been learned since October 1976, but this account provides an immediacy that cannot be found elsewhere.
"As a result of what Burroughs told me, I spoke to the men in Spanish," King wrote, "and told them that they were detained, as it was believed that they were able to
assist the Trinidad Police with their investigations into the circumstances surrounding the crash of the Cubana plane on the afternoon of Wednesday, 6th October,
1976, off the north coast of Barbados.
"[The first man] told me that his name is Freddy Lugo and that he is a Venezuelan national. I then asked him for his luggage and he said that he did not know. I then
spoke with the [second] man and he told me that his name is José Vásquez García, and that he is also a Venezuelan national. I asked him for his luggage and he said
that he and his friend were robbed of their luggage the day before, in Barbados.
"I then inquired of him whether he had reported the matter to the police and he said that he had not done so because the people in Barbados did not understand
Spanish and he could not understand English. I then communicated what was told to me by both men to Assistant Commissioner Burroughs."
False name, false passport
Early the following morning, King was called to the office of Deputy Police Commissioner Dennis Elliott Ramdwar to further interrogate Vásquez. Present in
Ramdwar's office were Senior Superintendent Gordon Waterman, Superintendent Jeremiah Gordon, and Joy Kelshall, another interpreter, who transcribed the
interrogation in Spanish.
According to King, García declared "that his correct name is Hernán Ricardo Lozano and that the passport he had in the name of José Vásquez García was false."
Lugo was interrogated further on Oct. 8, 11, 12 and 15; Lozano, on Oct. 10. King does not give details of those interrogations but says that "on Saturday, 16th
October, 1976, Freddy Lugo requested to see me. [He] told me that he was then prepared to say what he knew about the crash and that he wanted to see the
Lugo blames Lozano
In the presence of Senior Superintendent Waterman and Miss Kelshall, Lugo told Ramdwar "that on their way from Caracas to Trinidad Lozano told him that he was
traveling on a false passport. [Lugo] also said that Lozano told him that he was going to blow up a Cubana airplane.
"[Lugo] also said that he observed Lozano scowling at certain Cubans who were on the flight from Caracas to Trinidad." It is not clear if those "certain Cubans" were
the young members of the Cuban national fencing team who died in the explosion and crash.
As Ramdwar recalls, "Lugo told me that he was convinced that Lozano was the one who placed the bomb in the aircraft. He told me that Lozano had told him on the
flight from Caracas to Trinidad that he (Lozano) was going to blow up a Cubana aircraft. In the same statement, [Lugo] said that, while traveling in a taxi from the
Holiday Inn hotel to Piarco Airport in Trinidad, Lozano again told him with great determination that he was going to blow up a Cubana aircraft."
Bosh and Posada implicated
King wrote that, on Sunday, Oct. 17, Lozano told Deputy Commissioner Ramdwar "that he was a member of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), that he was
recruited by the CIA in Venezuela between 1970 and 1971, and received his training in Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence and the use and handling of bombs,
arms and photographic equipment in Venezuela and Panama, and that he selected the code name 'Wilson.'
"[Lozano] also said that he recruited Freddy Lugo about two years ago and that Lugo received his salary from Lozano and was assigned to him. [Lozano] also said
that he (Lozano) was associated with El Cóndor, which is a front for a group called El Coru.
"[Lozano] further said that the head of El Coru is Orlando Bosch, who is also known as Mr. Orlando or Orlando Panyagua, and that Luis Posada is his boss at I.C.I.
(Investigators and Industrial Consulters). Lozano also stated that he was in possession of three passports: a U.S.A. official passport, a forged Venezuelan passport
and a genuine Venezuelan passport."
The group mentioned by Lozano was actually CORU, an acronym for Coordinadora de Organizaciones Revolucionarias Unidas, or Coordinator for United
Revolutionary Organizations. The group was notorious for staging violent actions against Cuba. I.C.I. stood for Investigaciones Comerciales e Industriales,
Commercial and Industrial Research.
The names of Bosch and Posada had come up during an earlier interrogation. While being questioned on Oct. 15, Lugo said, according to Ramdwar's testimony,
"that Lozano told him on the flight between Caracas and Trinidad that Orlando Bosh and Luis Posada must be worried about him (Lozano), and that, after 20 minutes
of flight on the Cubana airliner between Trinidad and Barbados, Lozano became very nervous, was sweating, went to the bathroom, returned from the bathroom
even more nervous and sweating heavily."
On Tuesday, Oct. 19, Lugo told Deputy Commissioner Ramdwar "that while he and Lozano were at Piarco [International Airport] awaiting a Cubana aircraft out of
Trinidad on 6th October 1976, they went to the restaurant to have something to drink. He said that at a certain time he went to the bathroom and on his return he
found Lozano kneading a handful of something that looked like dough and, as he touched him on the shoulder, Lozano jumped, placed the substance in his jacket
pocket, and [placed] a tube of Colgate toothpaste that he had into the pocket of his shirt."
On the night of Oct. 19, Lozano told Ramdwar "that Lugo carried two cameras to Barbados, one slung around his neck and the other in his shoulder bag, which he
took aboard the Cubana aircraft on 6th October 1976. He said that he (Lozano) checked his luggage into the hold of the plane and that, while they were at the ticked
counter at Piarco before boarding the Cubana aircraft, an employee of Cubana told Lugo to check his shoulder bag [into the hold] but he insisted on taking it with
"Lozano then informed Ramdwar that he knew who blew up the plane and that the persons were Venezuelans and were at present in Trinidad." He then admitted that
"the Cubana plane was bombed by himself and Lugo."
In his testimony, Waterman recalls that Lozano "went on to say to Ramdwar: 'If you use your police brain, it would be clear to you who bombed the plane.' Ramdwar
told Lozano that he believed that he knew who committed the crime. Lozano hesitated for a while and said to Ramdwar, 'I am going to tell you in confidence that
Lugo and myself bombed the plane.'"
'We have problems in Caracas'
According to interpreter King, "Lozano also said that, some time after he arrived in Barbados, he made several overseas calls to Venezuela and among the persons
called was Orlando Bosch, and he told him what had happened, and Bosch replied: 'Friend, we have problems in Caracas. You never blow up a plane in the air.'
"[Lozano] said he also tried to contact Luis Posada but, as he was out of the office, he spoke with Posada's secretary, Celsa Toledo, for three minutes. [Lozano] then
requested a sheet of paper and drew a sketch [showing] how the C-4 plastic bomb is detonated."
Waterman amplified on that process. "I recall him pointing to a pencil on Ramdwar's desk and saying that the detonator used in the bomb was a pencil-type." In his
notes, Ramdwar says that Lozano "described the detonator as a pencil-type with chemicals, which could be timed for 8 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, 3
hours, 8 hours, 12 hours and 24 hours.
"[Lozano] said that these pencil-type detonators were of various colors, depending on the time at which the bomb was to be detonated," Ramdwar wrote. "He said
that a certain chemical is filled in a tube of Colgate toothpaste after the toothpaste is extracted."
The wages of terrorism
King testified that the following morning, Oct. 20, Lozano told Ramdwar that "Lugo boarded the plane with two cameras and that on his arrival in Barbados he had
only one, and he (Lozano) was sure the bomb was inside the other camera. He also said that he was aware that Lugo had knowledge of explosives."
During a conversation on Oct. 25, Lozano told King "that they were paid $25,000 for the job. He received $16,000 and Lugo $8,000. The other $1,000 was used
as spending money. He also said that his earnings was the money he received from the CIA and that he used this to finance his sister's [medical] studies at the
University of Caracas. Lozano further told me that his mother was wholly maintained by him with the extra money he received from his job with I.C.I.
"On the morning of 26th October, 1976, I accompanied the Chief Immigration Officer to the rooms where each suspect was detained and I read the deportation
order to them," interpreter King wrote. "Lugo said that he was glad that he was going back home, but if he is not wanted in Venezuela he would like to be sent to
"Lozano said that he did not want to return to Venezuela as the CIA and/or anti-Castro groups would kill him. He would like to go to Chile, Uruguay or Santo
Domingo, as he had lots of friends there. He also asked whether it was possible for him to be sent to the United States of America, but on remembering that his U.S.
passport was in Venezuela he decided to abandon the idea.
"Hernán Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo left at 1:20 p.m. that day by LAV Flight 225 for Venezuela."
The National Security Archive is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
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The Archive's Web site is http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB202/index.htm