Cuban Missive Crisis

For years the infamous Wasp Network collected reams of data on Miami's anti-Castro forces -- and the sundry, sometimes bizarre, attempts to infiltrate them

Roque also was becoming paranoid. He thought Basulto was growing suspicious of him, as Ruiz reported a few days later after another secret meeting with his comrade at the Pollo Tropical on Le Jeune Road and NW 36th Street.

On the other hand, Roque had gathered an intelligence gem regarding Basulto. In a message dated November 27, 1995, Ruiz informs Havana about it: "German stated that he had many and very good things. He said that Basulto had told him about plans he has with a “secret weapon' that was very effective during the Second World War and has not been manufactured anymore even though it is not very costly. He said that weapon could be introduced in Cuba to be used by counterrevolutionary groups and to promote actions against the government. A-4 insisted that he give more details about that “weapon,' but he said that he didn't know anything else. He said it was an anti-personnel weapon but has not been able to find out anything else."

About three months later, on February 22, 1996, Gonzalez found out about an upcoming Brothers to the Rescue mission that Basulto was keeping secret. As part of his cover, the Cuban agent had been plotting to get his wife and daughter out of Cuba. He met that day with Basulto to discuss how to send a letter to the State Department via two Cuban-American U.S. representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart. "As we were talking," Gonzalez typed to Hernandez, "he received a call from Carlos Costa, apparently inquiring about an operation that was going to take place in the future. Basulto told him that the entire fleet would be used, although he did not give any more details." But Gonzalez had a hunch: The Brothers to the Rescue leader was planning a flight that was to take place two days later to coincide with a conference of a dissident group. "He is evidently being very discreet," Gonzalez observed.

Three Wasps who got away: Cuban agents Albert Ruiz, Remijio Luna, and Ricardo Villareal
Three Wasps who got away: Cuban agents Albert Ruiz, Remijio Luna, and Ricardo Villareal
Basulto poses in front of his Cessna with Wasps Roque and Rene Gonzalez (kneeling)
Basulto poses in front of his Cessna with Wasps Roque and Rene Gonzalez (kneeling)

It will never be known what Basulto would have done had he flown over Havana two days later, because he didn't. As his plane buzzed toward Cuba that morning, two MiGs shot down two Cessnas that had departed from Opa-locka Airport and were flying near him. Indeed the most chilling verbiage of the trial has come not from the defendants' writings but from prosecutor David Buckner's opening statement: "On February 24, 1996, Operation Scorpion was brought to its deadly conclusion ... leaving only wreckage on the water." Four Brothers to the Rescue pilots were killed: Pablo Morales, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Pena, and Carlos Costa, the pilot who had called Basulto while Gonzalez was in his office.

In reading other messages, assistant U.S. attorneys Buckner, Kastrenakes, and Miller saw evidence that Cuba was plotting to lure Basulto's planes in for a shootdown. One shortwave message from Havana to its Miami operatives on January 29 said that "superior headquarters" had approved Operation Scorpion "in order to perfect the confrontation" with Brothers to the Rescue. In a message dated February 13, 1996 -- eleven days before the downing -- Hernandez instructed Gonzalez to "pinpoint in more detail everything related to new incursions by Brothers to the Rescue to be carried out in our country." Among the details he asked for were:

"Very clear and precise specifications that will allow us to know whether Marisol is flying or not. [Marisol is a code name for Basulto.]

"Whether the activity is to drop leaflets or to violate the air space.

"Whether you are flying or not."

His message ends with this warning: "If they ask you to fly at the last minute without being scheduled, find an excuse and do not do it. If you cannot avoid it, transmit over the airplane's radio the slogan for the July 13 Martyrs and “Viva Cuba.' If you are not able to call, say over the radio: “Long live Brothers to the Rescue and Democracia.'"

Prosecutors also have referred to another shortwave message the Directorate of Intelligence broadcast to its Miami operatives on February 18. The lawyers say it contains instructions regarding how Rene Gonzalez was to respond to Roque's relocation to Cuba. "When Venecia's [Roque's] return is made public, Castor's [Gonzalez's] first response should be incredulity and then condemnation." Roque sneaked off to Cuba the day before the shootdown and afterward denounced the group on Cuban government television, to the shock of many Miami exiles, including his unwitting Cuban-American wife. Roque was indicted in absentia, along with the others who escaped: Ricardo Villareal, Remijio Luna, and Albert Manuel Ruiz.

If there is a smoking message in the decrypted documents, it is this text from shortwave radio the Directorate of Intelligence sent its Miami operatives a week after the shootdown: "Our profound recognition for Operation German. Everything turned out well....We have dealt the Miami right a hard blow, in which your role has been decisive."

The Wasp Network soon was contemplating other incredible, and not-so-credible, counterrevolutionary developments and how to counteract them. Would the most powerful Cuban exile group organize a mercenary force to invade Cuba? Would it finance urban terrorists bent on planting bombs in Havana hotels? Would its leader fake a terminal illness to shore up his sagging political capital?

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