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

Several months after the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown, the chief of the Directorate of Intelligence, Edgardo Delgado Rodriguez, sent a long message to Hernandez. He warned that "violent actions against Cuba should increase in the short term," adding facetiously, "as a result of the extreme euphoria prevailing in Miami after the 24th of February." He instructed the Wasp Network to watch for various groups and individuals who had pulled off armed attacks inside Cuba. Many were the usual suspects -- old-timers such as Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, and Ramon Orozco Crespo -- whom Havana has long tried to link to the Cuban American National Foundation. But he also relayed to Hernandez an astounding new tip: CANF was organizing a new paramilitary group. According to Delgado the report originated from a comrade who said a U.S. National Guardmember named Andres Alvariño was working "to form a group of 40 men with professional military experience, persons on active duty in the military ... or ex-military personnel, for the execution of paramilitary missions against Cuba. It would be a force of mercenaries without ties to any counterrevolutionary Cuban groups, which they consider have been penetrated and are vulnerable. They would be paid per mission, and they would have life insurance policies of $100,000 for their families. [CANF board member] Roberto Martin Perez will be in charge of this project.... One of the financial promoters will be Enrique Casas, a Cuban millionaire and ex-U.S. Army officer who has a boat company and arms deposits in Honduras that belonged to the Nicaraguan contras." The message added that the CIA also was participating "indirectly" and that Alvariño and a sergeant in the National Guard already had begun recruiting the men. The recruits would be subjected to a "rigorous investigation" and operate in cells of four.

Delgado also included CANF's board of directors, "who rely on renowned terrorists, including the brothers [Guillermo and Ignacio] Novo Sampoll, Gaspar Jimenez Escobedo, Felix Rodriguez, Ramon Orozco Crespo, and Luis Posada Carriles." Delgado reported that in late November 1995, Jimenez Escobedo "suggested" to CANF's board of directors the "convenience" with which explosives of the kind Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bombing could be used against Castro. "Although we do not know how the proposal was received," Delgado continued, "a reliable source gave information that in subsequent weeks Jimenez Escobedo himself, Orozco Crespo, and Posada, independently, will try to acquire through different avenues type C-4 explosives [for use] against our country. This information has not yet been corroborated."

A year later Posada told two New York Times reporters, who interviewed him in an undisclosed location in the Caribbean, that he coordinated six Havana hotel bombings from August to September 1997 in which eleven people were injured and one man was killed. The type of explosive he used: C-4. He is awaiting a sentence of death by firing squad. Posada, who received military training alongside the late CANF founder Jorge Mas Canosa at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1963, also told the reporters the foundation had financed the bombing operation but later retracted the statement.

00-Tourist: The FBI says this photo of Gerardo Hernandez was part of an elaborate cover identity to hide his real one
00-Tourist: The FBI says this photo of Gerardo Hernandez was part of an elaborate cover identity to hide his real one

This past November Panamanian police arrested Posada, now age 70, for planning to detonate C-4 explosives in an attempt to kill Castro while he was in Panama for the Ibero-American Summit. The Cuban government wants to try him for various crimes, including the bombing of a Cuban jet that crashed shortly after takeoff from Barbados on October 6, 1976, killing 73 people. The CANF has always denied any connection to Posada's activities. The group has publicly dismissed Wasp Network intelligence as "fantasy."

But "CANF terrorists" are an elusive bunch and besides the Wasp Network had many other duties concerning the Mas Canosa organization. Among them: monitoring his political and material fortunes, plotting a few measures to discredit this enemy, and drafting scads of messages to Havana.

For example in a May 24, 1996, message Hernandez writes: "The old rivalry between Mas Canosa and [former Miami Herald publisher] David Lawrence has been re-ignited. Mas Canosa spoke on the radio to defend himself and has insulted Lawrence. It would be a good idea to make a threatening call to Lawrence and the Herald."

In the spring of 1997, the Wasp Network gathered some unexpected intelligence on CANF. It came from a reliable source: Ramon Saul Sanchez, the leader of the Democracy Movement. Rene Gonzalez, who had penetrated Democracy, had received the information at a meeting of the group's senior members. Gonzalez met Hernandez at the Piccadilly Restaurant at NW 23rd Avenue and West Flagler Street to pass him the diskette containing his report. Hernandez would then relay it to Havana along with his own conclusions. Dated March 27, 1997, Gonzalez's message read: "A bit of news was given which Saul asked to be kept secret. It is about Mas Canosa, who has terminal cancer, and, according to Saul, they don't think he will make it to the end of the year." Gonzalez added that another Democracy member, Marcelino Garcia, told him that as a result of the illness, there was conflict among Roberto Martin Perez and other senior CANF members over who would take charge.

Gonzalez was ever wary of exile trickery, though. "I took this news with some reservations, besides the goodness it would do to humanity if a guy like Mas Canosa would disappear," he said. Gonzalez suggested that Mas Canosa might be faking the illness as part of a stratagem in which he would undergo a miraculous healing to rally political support. "In doing that they could gain sympathy among the people," he explained, "who would see God's hand and the power of prayer, et cetera, et cetera." Hernandez found his comrade's hypothesis a little far-fetched and told Havana so. He suspected Mas Canosa truly was sick. "Castor [Gonzalez] said that maybe this was “pig head's' propagandistic strategy, being tremendously sly. I gave him my opinion that one cannot doubt anything coming from Mas Canosa, but I don't think he's going to get into a story of that kind. And I actually think that if there is smoke, it's because there is fire." But he noted they were in agreement about one thing: "We united our “faith' in a brief mental “prayer' that the news about the cancer is true, and we hope it cuts him in four pieces as soon as possible. Amen."

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