War on Hugo Chávez

An outlaw and former spook takes on the Venezuelan dictator

His sister later joined him. Once they performed together in a talent show. She sang and Robert, an aspiring musician who resembled Elvis, accompanied her on Spanish guitar. After graduating from high school, he studied business in Spokane. In 1972 he traveled to Munich to study TV and film production, and then to Scotland for communications classes.

The following year, 23-year-old Robert returned to Venezuela, where he met Siomi, who was five years younger. Their families belonged to a Cuban social club in Caracas and pushed them together. When Siomi's cousin invited her to an Engelbert Humperdinck concert, she needed a date. Who would want to go to that? she thought. Robert was the answer.

They didn't talk politics. She was charmed by his compliments and jokes. They ended the night with a kiss. The next morning a bouquet of white daisies shaped as a poodle arrived at her door. Ten minutes later, Robert showed up. Seven months after that, they married. At the time, he ran a mop rental company that his father had helped him start.

The Alonso family at their home in Cuba; Robert is at right
The Alonso family at their home in Cuba; Robert is at right
A guardsman carries a woman affected by tear gas in Caracas during the March 2004 Guarimba riots
A guardsman carries a woman affected by tear gas in Caracas during the March 2004 Guarimba riots

But unbeknownst to his new wife, by the early Seventies, Robert had become active in la lucha against Castro. He says he collaborated with the CIA and other U.S. agencies. (Asked to confirm Alonso's collaboration, CIA spokesman George Little responds, "We do not, as a rule, comment on these kinds of allegations.")

Robert's answers get murky when he is asked specifics about his work. "It's not like it seems in the movies. There are things one can't say."

Like some of the most radical exiles, in 1976 he joined U.S. and South African soldiers in Angola, fighting Marxist-Leninist forces propped up by Castro in a civil war. Robert saw it as a chance to confront the dictator. Cuban deployments reached tens of thousands.

To Siomi, he explained his lengthy absences as "business trips" to places like Cleveland, where the mop company had an office. In Angola, he says, he interrogated Cuban deserters to see if their motivations were legit. "It was a party of collaboration," he says. "And if they wanted to come to the party, they had to bring a bottle of wine or liquor, in terms of information."

His gun of choice was a Colt .38 pistol. When pushed for details about how he used it, he says only: "The most interesting parts I can't talk about."

In his daily life, Robert became a family man. The couple's first child, Carolina, was born in 1976. Siomi recalls Robert trying to snatch the baby from the hospital nursery just to hold her longer. At home he plopped her on his belly to watch Zorro. Their second child, Carlos, came in 1979. Robert started a TV production company in 1982 and launched a version of That's Incredible! in Venezuela. He's also a prolific writer, having penned books like Memorias de Cienfuegos (1983) and Los Generales de Cuba (1985). He talks fast, but writing seems to give his prodigious thoughts and words a chance to catch up.

The "business trips," he says, took him to Afghanistan, Bolivia, Grenada, Guyana, Zimbabwe, the United States, and France. But the secrets wore on his marriage. He typically didn't call home when he was on the road. Finally, in 1986, nearing divorce, Robert confessed to Siomi.

"I was angry at first because I thought he was having an affair," she says. "Then I was furious because I wanted to know more. He expects a lot of understanding and patience.... Even though I would enjoy knowing a lot of things, I respect his wishes."

Responds Robert: "The last person you tell is your wife. Sometimes she feels left out like the guayabera."

Around 1988, Robert halted the trips as the Cold War wound down. The couple bought an old coffee plantation about an hour outside Caracas, where daisies grew wild. They christened it Daktari for the Sixties TV series in Africa, and retreated to a home they built there the next year. "We decided to separate from the world and lived like monks."

The home grew to four stories. Then came a small swimming pool overlooking a jungle dotted with clouds. Later there was a piano bar, a vast library, and a stock of animals that included Colombian paso fino horses (he made money selling their sperm), German shepherds, and ostriches. Finally there was a Japanese garden with a koi pond.

Baby Alejandro arrived in 1992, followed by Eduardo in 1994.

In 1998, when Hugo Chávez ran for president on a promise to stamp out poverty, Robert warned friends about voting for the former paratrooper turned caudillo. But after Chávez was elected, Robert didn't immediately take action. He absorbed himself in writing a novel about Cuba and stayed relatively quiet until a two-month general strike erupted in December 2002.

Then he began penning letters to newspapers and friends. He also collected tens of thousands of e-mail addresses to spread his theory about derailing the Venezuelan president. "You can say his midlife crisis hit him in his political genes," Siomi says. "He was passionate about me and the children, but you could tell his mind was kidnapped.... He has become a different man since he has gotten himself into this craziness."

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