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In interviews with New Times this past July, Hialeah-based developer Santiago Alvarez acknowledged "certain responsibility" for the incursion (see "Spies in Miami, Commandos in Cuba,"July 5, 2001). He had little choice but to admit it. Mesa Redonda had featured a videotape of Suris seated in a chair and placing a phone call to Alvarez. Alvarez is heard answering the phone, unaware that Suris already was in custody. "Stay calm," Alvarez instructed. "Dig yourself in a little. Don't move. You'll see that everything is going to work out."
Then Suris asked Alvarez if he still wanted him to carry out an operation at the Tropicana nightclub in Havana. "The other day you told me about the Tropicana thing. Do you want me to do something there?" Suris asked.
"If you want to do that, all the better," Alvarez replied. "It doesn't matter to me. There you have the advantage that with a couple of little cans [laticas], it's over with, and it's less risky." Cuban authorities allege the Tropicana operation involved placing canisters of plastic explosives at the open-air cabaret, one of Havana's most popular tourist attractions.
The video was part of a Mesa Redondapresentation by Manuel Hevia, director of Cuba's Center for Historical State Security Investigations, a branch of the Interior Ministry. Hevia's highly detailed narrative alleged that Alvarez had promised Suris $10,000 at a meeting in a Coral Gables parking lot; that Alvarez had ordered the weapons at a Coconut Grove Convention Center gun show on March 10 of this year; that Suris picked up the weapons five days later from Miami Police Supply; that Suris bought knives, caps, boots, and other items at an Army supply store; that Ruben Dario Lopez, a member of the paramilitary Democratic National Unity Party, left a Key Biscayne marina on April 24 in a boat with Suris, Padrera, and Padron onboard; that the boat got stuck on a sandbar near Key Largo and then was searched by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol; that the Coast Guard found nothing compromising and released them; that Alvarez and two unidentified men boated separately toward the southwestern Bahamas; that an unidentified individual in a third boat transferred the weapons to Suris and crew at a place called Dog Rocks.
Lopez's name surfaced this past April at the Cuban spy trial. A secret message one of the defendants had sent to Havana referred to an undercover meeting among Lopez, Bosch, and a female agent whose code name was Sol and who eluded capture. According to the document, Bosch told Sol he had sent explosives to Havana but did not know if they had arrived. Bosch, who refused to testify as a defense witness at the trial, told New Times he did not ship any explosives that year, but he confessed to doing so previously. "I've sent so many things to Cuba that I can't remember if they were explosives or not," he added. "You can't destroy a tyranny by praying to saints in a church."
Hevia maintained that the April operation had been planned and financed by Alvarez, Lopez, and a third Miami-Dade resident named Ignacio Castro. He noted that Lopez had been involved in previous acts of terrorism, including an Alpha 66 mission in which several commandos fired machine guns at the Guitart Hotel in May 1995. Ignacio Castro, he added, traveled to Panama with Alvarez this past April to visit Posada and three more Miami-Dade men jailed for an alleged plot to kill Castro with a bomb last year.
"How were infiltration operations like this financed, organized, and executed right before the eyes of the U.S. authorities?" Hevia asked.
For Alvarez the answer is simple. "We didn't violate any U.S. laws," he insisted. He said the April mission was not staged from U.S. territory and therefore did not violate the Neutrality Act, which prohibits exports of arms, ammunition, or other implements of war from the United States to another country, unless authorized by the State Department.
A boat captain, Alvarez served in the U.S. Army's Cuban Units from 1961 to 1963; his role in the Bay of Pigs invasion was to shuttle infiltrators from the Florida Keys across the straits. During that period he also "spent some time" with the CIA, he said, and as a member of Comandos L and the Movement of Revolutionary Recovery participated in several maritime commando raids along the coast of Cuba. He declined to confirm any of Hevia's details about the April operation and offered only a general refutation of any information the Cuban government puts out. "The Castro regime is the WWF [World Wrestling Federation] of international politics," he scoffed. "I didn't like Castro from the beginning. He was such a demagogue. He reminds me of Hulk Hogan." Alvarez chuckled that he can't watch professional wrestling. "It reminds me of the Castro government."
Despite his videotaped exchange with Suris regarding the apparent plan to bomb the Tropicana nightclub, Alvarez said the 1997 explosions at Havana hotels (which left an Italian tourist dead and which Posada took credit for in a 1998 New York Times interview) didn't accomplish much. "[Such] bombings don't do anything," Alvarez declared. "When we start making war, we will start attacking higher objectives." He cited sabotaging oil refineries and sugar facilities. "There were no tourists in Kosovo or Vietnam," he added. "When you have a war going on, you have no tourism going on there."