Inside the Wasp's Nest

In the cloak-and-dagger world of a Cuban chief spook, Puerto Rican music magazines, wet beepers, and pregnancies can cause unexpected turbulence

As New Times reported three weeks ago ("Cuban Missive Crisis,"February 1), Hernandez wrote copiously and spitefully about sundry Miami-based enemies of the revolution, including Brothers to the Rescue, the Cuban American National Foundation, and the Democracy Movement. In all the FBI seized floppy disks containing about 15,000 pages written by Hernandez and his fellow Wasps; 1400 of those pages have become evidence at the trial.

But a midlevel manager of a low-budget Cuban spy ring has a lot more than supervising his agents' fieldwork with which to contend. He has to worry about their financial, physical, emotional, and ideological health in the belly of the counterrevolutionary beast. Not to mention his own. He has to file expense reports and make ends meet in a very expensive capitalist city. And most important, he has to maintain and refine his own false identities. Otherwise he could get caught.


Documents seized from Hernandez's pad; the real Daniel Cabrera parks cars in Palm Beach
Documents seized from Hernandez's pad; the real Daniel Cabrera parks cars in Palm Beach
Field agents Joseph and Amarylis Santos -- one of the network's "operational marriages" -- used their real names to apply for jobs at Southcom and to plead guilty
Field agents Joseph and Amarylis Santos -- one of the network's "operational marriages" -- used their real names to apply for jobs at Southcom and to plead guilty

Like a method actor of the underworld, Hernandez prepared meticulously for the Viramontez role or, in the nomenclature of espionage, the Viramontez legend. He even had a Cameron County, Texas, birth certificate, a U.S. passport, and Social Security card all in the name of Manuel Viramontez (who died in California while still an infant). But those documents were just the prologue.

At seventeen pages long, the legend was meticulous indeed, spun with themes of an active socialist imagination. In mind-numbing detail he traces his parents' lives: They were born in Mexico. They came to Puerto Rico as children. They met in college in Texas in the Fifties. His mother's parents died in 1956 in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. "I was born on January 26, 1967," the Viramontez legend states. "My parents had studied in Texas at the University of Edinburgh. My father studied accounting, and my mother studied secretarial sciences...." They graduate, have a daughter, then a son (Manuel), and move back to Puerto Rico in 1970. Little Manuel spends the first twelve years of his life in apartment 8-B in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, a neighborhood about which he writes a laborious history. "The level of crime is respectable," he notes, "with many stolen cars."

Then there's a treatise on his own educational experience from elementary school to college, where he studies sales and marketing. After graduating he takes a $9.06-per-hour job in San Juan as a sales agent for a liquor importing company. He loses his father to bone marrow cancer on October 23, 1991. He lives with his mother, who doesn't own a car because she is still traumatized by her parents' death. "I have a two-door Oldsmobile Delta 88, which I have not wanted to restore, as it belonged to my father," he notes. He had a girlfriend at the time. "Her data is as follows: Name: Adribell Rivera Perez.

Occupation: Senior law student at the UPR.

Father: Alfredo.

Mother: Adis.

Brother: Armando.

Age: 25."

Then he describes his buddies.

Owing to omissions in the documents released by the FBI, the next period of his legend is sketchy. In 1988 he moves to Mexico, where he is married to a woman for six years before the relationship turns sour and they separate. In 1994 he decides to begin a new life in Miami.

While training in Cuba for his mission in Miami, Hernandez had planned for Viramontez to be a photographer. But he decided that would be too pricey for a guy whose bosses allocated about $1500 per month for him. And that had to cover everything: rent, food, phone, electricity, gasoline, cable TV, medicine, dry cleaning, newspapers, magazines, roach killer. On top of that he picked up the tab for his field agents when they met at cheap restaurants (always after conducting strict countersurveillance measures) to discuss operations. "Once here I noticed it was going to be an expensive cover," he wrote to his supervisors in Havana. "And with all our limited resources, it was going to be a difficult one for me to develop." He also considered fronting as an illustrator because he had once worked as one in Cuba. But he concluded the pay was inadequate, at least at places he thought would hire him. Moreover one was a security risk, he concluded: "El Nuevo Herald, for example, pays $100 for each caricature published, and you've seen the shit they put out. Obviously this wouldn't be the appropriate medium, because it publishes the works of two or three of my former colleagues who would certainly recognize my style no matter how much I change it." So like many an artist in the capitalist wasteland, he compromised. "For now this is the story: I do advertising and also sell it as a freelancer."

Hernandez continued to hone his pseudo-persona. In another report to Havana, he described his efforts to refine his Puerto Rican mindset by ordering a subscription to a Puerto Rican music magazine. "If someone asks me today as a Cuban how high the Pico Turquino [mountain] is, I swear on my mother that I do not remember. But if I am Cuban, I would have to know who the Doctor of Salsa is, even if I do not like music because everyone talks about him. It is the same with Puerto Ricans.... The most famous Puerto Rican artists are broadcast wherever Spanish is spoken, and it is very difficult not to have references to them, however “anti-music' you claim to be. I would say, for example, if you ask any Puerto Rican today who Olga Tañon's husband is or who he left to go with her, and he tells you he does not know, there is no way you take the “weird' label off of him."

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