Penniless Purgatory

Minerva Vasquez speaks for the first time about the terrorism charges against husband Narseal Batiste

In 2004 he was injured on the job when a metal rod from the back of a truck fell on him and he sprained his back. The company paid him a settlement, "not more than $5000," she recalls.

He used the money to open a construction company that would become Azteca Stucco and Masonry, renting a space in Liberty City, which would later give the accused terrorist group its name. His intention was also to start a church in the building near NW 15th Avenue and 63rd Street.

Batiste's religious beliefs in these years bear some examination. According to the Herald, he first followed a weirdo named "Master G.J.G. Atheea, the bearded, staff-wielding founder of an unconventional spiritual group in Chicago." In 1999 or 2000, Vasquez reports, he also became associated with the "Moorish Science Temple, a sect that blends Christianity, Judaism, and Islam."

The family of Narseal Batiste (shown here) is paying the 
The family of Narseal Batiste (shown here) is paying the price

Batiste "wanted to be a minister. He realized that this was his calling," his wife says, so they began a Bible-reading class in their $650-per-month, one-bedroom apartment. Soon three homeless families had moved in and more than 30 people were attending the sessions. "Narseal wanted to see the men be examples to their children," she relates. "He wanted them to be proud of their nationality.... We had black kids, Hispanic, European ... we even had one Chinese kid. It was multicultural."

Vasquez contends there was no racial or anti-American bias. Indeed her husband's great grandmother was Irish-American, and their son Nicholas has inherited her blue eyes. And, of course, Vasquez is Hispanic. Batiste was trying to inculcate "national pride" and nothing more, Vasquez asserts.

But it was about that time when the two federal informants joined the group and began taping the conversations that would land Batiste and his followers in solitary. One of the informants, referred to in documents as a North Miami convenience store owner named Mohammad, met Batiste in October 2005. Soon Batiste began talking about a "Moorish government in the United States," the informant alleges. He allegedly told Mohammad that Al Qaeda might help. This past March, a second informant, who posed as an Al Qaeda representative, led Batiste in an oath of loyalty to the terrorist group. The other six members of Batiste's collective did the same. Then came discussions about blowing up buildings including the Sears Tower, prosecutors charge, and Mohammad provided a video camera to film potential locations.

Two details raise questions about even this scant evidence. The two informants were paid a combined $55,885 for their help and — according to an article in the black-oriented Miami Times — also received assistance in immigration cases.

"My question to the American people is: What was said to [Batiste] so that he would respond like he did?" Vasquez says of her husband's alleged terrorist statements. "He would never, ever, ever kill anyone.... He would never, ever hurt a fly."

Whether the government has more proof against Minerva Vasquez's husband remains to be seen. A trial is set for March 5. But for now the company has gone belly-up. Thousand of dollars of furniture in the Liberty City building has been vandalized or stolen. Tears come to Vasquez's eyes as she reports that this past August, she accepted food stamps for the first time. She also has had to take contributions from friends for gas and clothes for the kids.

Vasquez and Batiste's son Giovanni remembers that he was leaving trumpet class the June day when he learned of his father's arrest. He was angry. "For now I have no one to teach me to be a man," the thirteen-year-old says. "That sums it up."

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