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

"It took me a couple of minutes to finish my ice cream, and I left heading toward some telephone booths that are at the entrance to the left. I pretended to be talking on the phone with the beeper in my hand, as if I was answering a page." He observed Rodriguez exit with his shopping cart and push it to a gray Mercedes-Benz with tinted windows. "He placed the things he had bought inside the trunk. And immediately he did something which seems to me was a sign of countersurveillance. Usually people [after emptying their shopping cart] leave it right there, or maybe the more conscientious people take the cart a little bit toward the building. Nevertheless he did the opposite. What he did was to take it further away (about five meters) in the opposite direction of the store with no logical justification at all. He did it in such a way that, on his way back, he had the entire panoramic view in front of him, with complete control of the view of the entrance of the store along with the view of all the people who could have come out behind him. I had to have been in this view since I was at the telephone booths." Hernandez noted the license plate number.

The message continues with Hernandez's analysis of the encounter. "The subject was alone. Nevertheless we must emphasize that because of the characteristics of the jacket he was wearing, it is perfectly possible that he could have been armed." He concludes that Rodriguez didn't suspect him because of the way he drove off. "He could have made a turn, even though it's a little illogical, allowing him to not show the back part of his car (including the license plate) toward the area where I was.... This is all for now. You can imagine what it feels like to have a guy so close who is such an SOB and who owes us such a big debt."

Three Wasps who got caught: Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino, and Fernando Gonzalez, who concentrated on a naval air station  in Key West and a military headquarters in west Miami-Dade
Three Wasps who got caught: Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labañino, and Fernando Gonzalez, who concentrated on a naval air station in Key West and a military headquarters in west Miami-Dade

Intelligence on the Democracy Movement and its leader, Ramon Saul Sanchez, required more copious writing than was needed for other exile groups and forced the Wasp Network to stretch the limits of its training. In the past Sanchez had advocated violence against the Castro government; in the early Eighties he led the Organization for the Liberation of Cuba, which supposedly ran missions to the island. But after spending four and a half years in prison for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating the assassination of a Cuban diplomat in New York, Sanchez adopted a strategy of peaceful protest.

According to the Wasp Network files, Havana was particularly concerned about Sanchez's potential to bring his unique brand of anti-Castro propaganda to Cuban shores. In a message dated February 25, 1997, special agent (and Democracy member) Gonzalez reviewed a flotilla that had taken place a day earlier to Cuban waters to commemorate the victims of the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown a year earlier. Fifteen planes accompanied the boats. Basulto, Sanchez, and Gonzalez were among those who had flown. Everything had gone smoothly. "The atmosphere was full of optimism and satisfaction," he reported after a meeting of Democracy leaders at the group's office in a strip mall at SW Eighth Street and 81st Avenue. But he had some vexing new intelligence. A call from someone in Cuba had come into the office. It was Lazaro Cabrera, a member of a group called the Alianza Republicana de Cuba, who had been arrested for activities on the island that coincided with the flotilla. "He painted a very upbeat picture, saying that everything had gone perfectly in Cuba," Gonzalez began. "He said that all the masses took place and that people had gone to the Malecón to throw flowers [into the sea]. He said the people's morale was very high and that everyone knew about what Democracy was doing, that Democracy was the strongest sounding force in Cuba."

It became more unsettling. Cabrera then said that while in detention he was visited by Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage. "He said Lage told him ... that the Cuban government understood that Democracy was a movement of decent people, but that they were wearing down the government at a time when the country was trying to survive. According to Lazaro, Lage practically begged him to understand." Gonzalez said the Democracy leaders concluded that the Cuban government might want to hold a dialogue to discuss the flotillas. He seemed befuddled: "This will be all regarding what Lazaro said. You should know if he's crazy, looking for a visa, or is one of us."

Several months later, however, Gonzalez was reporting intelligence more to his liking. In September Democracy was considering leasing a cruise ship that would steam along the northern shore of Cuba just before Christmas. The cruise would feature a Willy Chirino concert and a laser show sending messages of peace into the sky.

He suggested a novel form of sabotage: "We could begin filling out and sending back forms expressing an interest in going, which in turn would exceed all expectations." Gonzalez suggested to Hernandez the Wasp Network could fax in 200 forms, with each one pledging three bogus participants committed to paying for the cruise. "Perhaps names could be taken from the phone book at random and used to fill out the forms," he continued. Then, as the day of the cruise approached and Democracy leaders attempted to collect money from the participants, they would realize they didn't have enough to fill the ship and would have to cancel. Hernandez rejected his comrade's proposal, saying it would require too much work, and the faxes could be traced. The cruise, as it turned out, never took place.

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