WASHINGTON -- Cuba's top combat commander has been secretly assigned to Nicaragua, signaling what could be an expansion of Cuba's military role in the Central American nation, a senior administration official said Sunday.
And a former Nicaraguan official who defected said 80 Soviet MiG fighters presently in Cuba have been earmarked for Nicaragua, with delivery expected sometime after the 1985 national elections.
The New York Times, quoting a U.S. intelligence report, said Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, deputy to Cuban Armed Forces Minister Raul Castro, is believed to be organizing 'a large-scale Cuban move into Nicaragua.'
The Times quoted an administration official as saying Ochoa has been posted to Nicaragua to oversee Cuban operations. Ochoa was instrumental in the Cuban military buildup in Angola in 1976 and Ethiopia in 1977.
State Department and Pentagon officials refused comment. Officials at the Nicaraguan Embassy were unavailable for comment.
But a senior administration official told United Press International that Central American military sources had informed U.S. intelligence officials of Ochoa's duties in Nicaragua.
The official also confirmed a new CIA report estimates there are now 8,000 Cubans in Nicaragua, including 2,000 military advisers and technicians. Nicaraguan and Cuban officials have put the total at 4,000.
The Washington Post, reporting on a 13-hour interview with Nicaraguan defector Miguel Bolanos Hunter, outlined the use of Soviet and Cuban advisers in intellegence operations and planning guerrilla actions in neighboring El Salvador. Bolanos also reported Cuban and Soviet plans to beef up Nicaragua's military with MiG fighters.
Bolanos, a former counter-intelligence official of Nicaraguan state security, told the Post a Cuban adviser supervised planning for a damaging raid by Salvadoran rebels against the January 1982 Salvadoran air base at Ilopango.
Cuban, Soviet, Bulgarian and East German advisers assist Sandinista security operations, Bolanos told the Post, noting that two top-ranking Soviets and a Cuban were advisers to the 35 Nicaraguans in his section.
He said the security detachment arranged for demonstrations and heckling during the visit of Pope John Paul II. He also said the recent expulsion of three U.S. diplomats was the result of a two-year program to discredit democratic foes of the Sandinista government with trumped-up charges.
Bolanos said Nicaraguan pilots are undergoing training in Eastern Europe so they will be ready to pilot Soviet MiGs when they arrive in Nicaragua. He said about 80 of the fighters are to be delivered from Cuba in 1985, after the Sandinistas win the national elections.