Guillermo Hernández Cartaya was born in Cuba in 1932. He became a banker who supported the government of Fulgencio Batista. An opponent of Fidel Castro he fled to the United States and took part in the Bay of Pigs operation in 1961. He remained in prison for three years and according to one source the CIA paid $50,000 to get him out of Cuba.
In 1971 Cartaya established the World Finance Corporation. In 1976 Frank Castro helped to establish Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations (CORU). Other members included Luis Posada, Orlando Bosch, Armando Lopez Estrada and Guillermo Novo. CORU was partly financed by Cartaya.
One Miami police veteran told the authors of Assassination on Embassy Row (1980): "The Cubans held the CORU meeting at the request of the CIA. The Cuban groups... were running amok in the mid-1970s, and the United States had lost control of them. So the United States backed the meeting to get them all going in the same direction again, under United States control." It has been pointed out that George H. W. Bush was director of the CIA when this meeting took place.
Castro told the Miami Herald why he had helped establish CORU: "I believe that the United States has betrayed freedom fighters around the world. They trained us to fight, brainwashed us how to fight and now they put Cuban exiles in jail for what they had been taught to do in the early years."
In October, 1976, Cubana Flight 455 exploded in midair, killing all 73 people aboard. This included all 24 young athletes on Cuba's gold-medal fencing team. Police in Trinidad arrested two Venezuelans, Herman Ricardo and Freddy Lugo. Ricardo worked for Posada's security agency in Venezuela and admitted that he and Lugo had planted two bombs on the plane. Ricardo claimed the bombing had been organized by Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch. When Posada was arrested he was found with a map of Washington showing the daily route of to work of Orlando Letelier, the former Chilean Foreign Minister, who had been assassinated on 21st September, 1976. Ricardo Morales Navarrete later admitted that he was part of this bomb plot.
CORU took credit for fifty bombings in Miami, New York, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico and Argentina in the first ten months after it was established. In a CBS interview on 10th June, 1977, Armando Lopez Estrada, a member of CORU, claimed: "We use the tactics that we learned from the CIA... We were trained to set off a bomb, we were trained to kill."
In 1977 the World Finance Corporation collapsed. He was later charged with money laundering, drugs & arms trafficking and embezzlement. The federal prosecutor told Pete Brewton that he had been approached by a CIA officer who explained that "Cartaya had done a bunch of things that the government was indebted to him for, and he asked me to drop the charges against him." As a result Cartaya was only convicted of tax evasion. After serving one year in prison, Cartya was released on 6th June, 1987.
One of those exiles - who would play a part in Molina's life story - was Guillermo Hernandez Cartaya. Along with hundreds of other Cubans, Cartaya traveled to Central America for training in Brigade 2506, the core assault force for the invasion.
On April 14, 1961, under CIA direction, the 1,400-man brigade landed at the Bay of Pigs. Quickly, however, the Cuban army pinned down the invaders and captured 1,189 of them, including Cartaya. Months later, the U.S. government ransomed Cartaya and the others with $53 million in medicine, tractors and other equipment.
But the Bay of Pigs soldiers did not simply fade away. Many stayed with the CIA and carried the anti-communist crusade to far flung corners of the globe. Some fought with special counterinsurgency teams in Vietnam. Others signed up with intelligence agencies throughout South America.
By the 1970s, Cartaya was hitting it big in politics and banking, too. According to Jonathan Kwitny's Endless Enemies, Cartaya parlayed his anti-Castro credentials into powerful relationships, even joining Nelson Rockefeller on hunting and fishing trips. Then, in the mid-1970s, Cartaya launched his most ambitious endeavor, an international financial holding company called the World Finance Corp., later renamed WFC Corp. The firm's maze of banks reached to the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, London, the Caribbean, Miami, Colombia and Panama.
To head the crucial Panama bank, known as UniBank, Cartaya recruited another Cuban exile whom Cartaya had met during travels to Atlanta. That Cuban exile was John Molina. Taking up Cartaya on his job offer, Molina moved to Panama City to run UniBank. With Molina at the helm, UniBank began steering Cartaya's money from all over the world into untraceable accounts. Molina also oversaw Cartaya's extensive financial dealings in Colombia and other South American countries. Millions of dollars were going in and out of major Colombian agricultural projects.
But Cartaya's banking empire encountered troubles in South Florida. Responding to a routine call, Dade County police found large quantities of marijuana residue in a Miami dumpster. Along with the marijuana residue, police discovered business records of corporations connected to WFC. As the investigation developed, authorities uncovered other corporate links between WFC and Aerocondor, a South American airline that had been caught smuggling drugs. Police also discovered that WFC agents had contacts with the Mafia drug syndicate of Santo Trafficante, Jr., whose lucrative narcotics operations had dominated Cuba prior to Castro's revolution.
Other leads went off in surprising directions. The anti-Castro Cartaya, it seemed, had worked with a suspected Cuban government spy. Even more perplexing, WFC had received a$2 million loan from the Narodny Bank, a KGB-connected Soviet financial institution that was responsible for scrounging up hard currency for Moscow. Police came to suspect that WFC was an intelligence front. Federal investigators found that about a dozen WFC officials had past associations with the CIA.
"It was drugs, it was money laundering, it was everything," South Florida detective James Rider told me. "I know the CIA was in there somewhere."
The investigators also came to know the name of John Molina. He was not regarded as a powerful player though. He was just one of Cartaya's financial lieutenants carrying out orders. But the authorities recognized that UniBank was an important cog in Cartaya's money-laundering machine.
Before the so-called "deregulation" of the savings and loan industry was even a gleam in Ronald Reagan's eye, there was another savings and loan in Texas besides Surety that was giving regulators and prosecutors problems in the late 1970s. This institution was Jefferson Savings and Loan in McAllen, way down south in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the land of political machines, political bosses, political patronage and the patron.
Jefferson S&L was chartered in 1956 with six directors, including future U.S. senator Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr., his brother, Donald, and his father, Lloyd M. Bentsen Sr., el patron. Another director was Vannie Cook, who would one day be a business partner of reputed mob associate and Surety S&L looter Raymond Novelli. Lloyd Jr. stepped down as a director the next year, but continued as a large stockholder with 15.5 percent of the shares. Donald also held 15.5 percent of the shares, while Lloyd Sr. was the biggest shareholder, with 18 percent of the stock.
By 1974, two new names had appeared on Jefferson's board of directors. They were Guillermo Hernandez-Cartaya and his father, Marcelo Hernandez. Hernandez-Cartaya is a Cuban exile who fought in the abortive CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, was captured and then was ransomed by the U.S. government. He went to work for Citizens & Southern Bank in Atlanta and then in 1970 formed World Finance Corporation in Miami.
By 1977, Hernandez-Cartaya and World Finance were the focus of intense and extensive state and federal investigations into drug smuggling, money laundering, gun running, political corruption and terrorist activities. But the case fizzled out in 1978 and only resulted in one income-tax indictment of Hernandez-Cartaya, in 1981. The CIA was partly, if not totally, responsible for pulling the plug on the investigation.
At least 12 World Finance employees had past associations with the CIA. When Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Jerome Sanford, who resigned in frustration and disgust over the failed investigation, tried to obtain from the FBI its CIA files on World Finance, he was denied access on the grounds of national security. But the CIA did acknowledge that it had 24 documents relating to World Finance that were generated in 1976 and 1977.
One of the six founding directors and stockholders of World Finance, along with Hernandez-Cartaya, was Washington lawyer Walter Sterling Surrey, described by journalist John Cummings as "a charter member of the old boy network of U.S. intelligence." Surrey had served in the OSS (the CIA's predecessor) in World War II, and after the war went to work for the State Department as head of the Division of Economic Security Controls. He resigned his position with World Finance in 1976 and has denied any knowledge of intelligence or illegal activities at the company.
Frank Castro and Ricardo Morales were linked by terrorism as well as drugs; their violent records stretched back into the 1960s. But their anticommunist efforts reached a climax in 1976, when Frank Castro joined several other Cuban exile leaders in founding CORU, an umbrella organization for terrorism against Cuban installations and against the persons and property of countries deemed overly sympathetic to Fidel Castro's regime. Morales gave sanctuary to some CORU agents in Venezuela, where he had become a high-ranking officer in the intelligence service, DISIP.
"The story of CORU is true," one of its leading organizers told an interviewer in 1977. "There was a meeting in the Bonao mountains [of the Dominican Republic] of 20 men representing all different activist organizations. It was a meeting of all the military and political directors with revolutionary implications. It was a great meeting. Everything was planned there. I told them that we couldn't just keep bombing an embassy here and a police station there. We had to start taking more serious actions ." The organization took credit for the October 1976 explosion of a Cuban passenger jet and fifty other bombings in Miami, New York, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, and Argentina in the first ten months of its existence. In a CBS News interview, one member explained, "We use the tactics that we learned from the CIA because we-we were trained to do everything. We are trained to set off a bomb, we were trained to kill ... we were trained to do everything." Five of CORU's founders, including Frank Castro, later joined the Contras.
Financing for CORU operations allegedly came from WFC, a Florida based financial conglomerate and drug-trafficking front closely associated with the Restoy-Escandar-Trafficante organization exposed in Operation Eagle. An unpublished congressional staff study of the company found that it encompassed "a large body of criminal activity, including aspects of political corruption, gun running, as well as narcotics trafficking on an international level." The WFC empire was led by CIA-trained Bay of Pigs veteran Guillermo Hernandez Cartaya, whom federal authorities suspected of working with the Contra backer and former CIA officer Gustavo Villoldo. The head of the Dade County investigation of WFC later said he found that one company subsidiary was "nothing but a CIA front."