Frometal Jacket

The extreme idealism of F-4 commander Rodolfo Frometa

Pop morality quiz: An organization with offices in the United States has assassinated a foreign spy in that agent's homeland, or tried to do so. This is: A) right, B) wrong, C) legal, D) illegal, E) the kind of activity U.S. and Cuban authorities should be investigating.

If you live in Miami there's a good chance your head is already swirling with questions you want to ask before responding. For example, was the target a spy for Tony Blair or that tyrant Fidel Castro?

Comandos F-4 chief Rodolfo Frometa answers "A" because the target was Juan Pablo Roque, post-Soviet Cuba's most notorious spy. Roque is the debonair pilot who is now reviled in el exilio for marrying a Miami girl, Ana Margarita Martinez, then dumping her in an extreme example of putting his work before his relationship. Their matrimony was part of Roque's cover identity that enabled his infiltration of Brothers to the Rescue, the men who flew Cessnas over the Florida Straits in the early to mid-Nineties to spot hundreds of Cuban rafters trying to ride the Gulf Stream to freedom, or at least a free-market economy. Roque split for Havana in February 1996 just a few days before a Cuban MiG destroyed two Brothers to the Rescue planes over the straits, killing four of the group's members. An FBI investigation found that Roque had provided information to his superiors in Havana related to the Brothers' flight plans.

The alleged hit on Roque, according to Frometa, occurred this past December 16 near the intersection of Ayesteran and Boyeros in the El Cerro section of Havana. It was carried out by several F-4 members based in Havana. A policeman named Luis Ramirez Echeverria died in the shootout, as did one Ramon Sosa, a 32-year-old member of the F-4 hit squad. Roque was severely wounded and hospitalized. "I can't assure you that he is still alive," Frometa said last week. "He could be dead already."

Frometa, a brooding 56-year-old with a black mega-goatee, and his peppy blond-haired wife Teresa Diaz de Frometa were happy to have New Times pay a visit last week to the F-4 headquarters in Little Havana. She typed into a computer while he answered phone calls in their two-room office, up a dingy flight of stairs from a parking lot at the corner of West Flagler Street and SW Fourteenth Avenue. The place resembles a low-end travel agency, except for the montage of several dozen color snapshots that cover most of one wall. In the middle is a picture of Roque. His visage is surrounded by photos of men and women clad in combat gear and wielding machine guns and pistols. In one Teresa is taking aim with a hefty 9mm Beretta. Another shot shows a man (with Wite-Out painted over him to conceal his identity) standing next to a Havana pay phone on which he has just placed stickers containing F-4 propaganda. There is also a photo of an apartment building where, according to Frometa's island operatives, Roque resided until recently. A typed address (Calle Paseo 1, #201, Apt. 33) is attached to the photo. "Everyone who lives there works for the Cuban government," Frometa notes. And a policeman guards the entrance.

In March 2001 Frometa testified at the federal trial of five colleagues of Roque's who were arrested in 1998 for spying on exile groups and conspiring to obtain classified information from U.S. military bases. Frometa agreed to testify as a hostile defense witness at the trial and acknowledged F-4 was engaged in acts of violence in Cuba, including an arson attack on a bus. But the jurors didn't buy the defense attorneys' basic argument -- that their clients' presence in Miami was justified in order to monitor guys like Frometa. A jury convicted them in June 2001 and found one of them guilty of first-degree murder for complicity in the 1996 shootdown. They are serving sentences ranging from fifteen years to life.

Despite his group's dedication to the goal of offing Cuban police, spies, and anybody affiliated with the Castro regime, Frometa has a warm, even childlike, demeanor. It is easy to imagine him playing with his nine-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son. There they are on the wall, sporting black berets and F-4 T-shirts, marching down a street with their dad during a Little Havana demonstration. (His other three offspring are now adults.)

Frometa also thinks "C" (legal) is a valid answer. He maintains he has done no wrong under U.S. or Florida law because he had no prior knowledge of the December 16 attack and played no role in it. He was only the messenger, he asserts. At least Frometa hopes "C" is correct since the FBI is aware of his claim. He's almost certain his phone is tapped and office bugged. If true, it shouldn't be surprising. In December 1994 a federal judge in Miami sentenced him to three years in prison for trying to buy a Stinger missile, three anti-tank rockets, and a grenade launcher from an undercover FBI agent posing as a U.S. Army supply sergeant. Frometa said he planned to use the weapons to kill Castro.

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