The questions began shortly before 9:00 that morning and continued for ten hours, ending in the early evening. The three opposing lawyers took turns grilling the woman before them, probing her private life, searching for inconsistencies. She sat calmly through it all, gazing every once and awhile out the window at the panoramic view of the city below, at the undulating river as it nudged its way past rundown boat yards and downtown high-rises on its way into Biscayne Bay. This was the end of her affair, her alleged romance with the man she called "George" and whom world leaders knew as Jorge Mas Canosa.
Every word carried her farther away from a dream she had cherished. Mas was the man who was going to save Cuba, she explained. And she was the woman who had loved and protected him. For twenty years she had been available whenever he needed her, she said, swearing under oath that her statements were true. The proof, she said, was her ten-year-old son. According to her testimony, Mas is his father.
She recounted the details of her alleged two-decade liaison with the leader of Miami's Cuban exile community -- when they met, where they made love, how they grew apart after her son was conceived. She recalled years of sheltering Mas from gossip, of hiding her affair from her family and her closest friends, of lying on public documents. She detailed the efforts she made to persuade Mas to assume his paternal responsibilities and described the frustration that finally led her to file a paternity lawsuit against him in November 1994.
That lawsuit, upon which this story is wholly based, is a public record. The woman's full name, as well as the names of her children and ex-husband and his family, are also public record. However, New Times has chosen to use pseudonyms for the woman and her extended family in an effort to protect the children from embarrassment. For the purposes of this article, the woman will be known as Beatrice Puig, her sons as Adam and Peter, her ex-husband as David, and her ex-husband's son as Marcos. All other characters in this article are identified by their true names. Jorge Mas Canosa did not return repeated calls to his office and to the Cuban American National Foundation.
From Beatrice's deposition:
Beatrice: I started trying to make him take the DNA test, which he promised, and then he refused and he kept talking only about his privacy and his prestige and didn't care about Peter's life or future or identity or anything else.
Maurice Kutner, attorney for Mas: When did you make the decision to tell Peter about Mas?
Beatrice: I made that decision the day he was born. I wanted to let him know who his real father is, and I was stopped all the way. I was sold on the idea that it would not be the best thing, to wait, to sort things out. To think about Cuba.
Mas has denied the relationship ever occurred. Moreover, he has publicly accused the 46-year-old businesswoman of being a Communist agent working on behalf of Fidel Castro to destroy his credibility.
The deposition, conducted July 12, 1995, represented the first and perhaps only time that Beatrice would be able to tell her story. Even before she filed her lawsuit, a circuit court judge slapped her with a gag order forbidding her from discussing with anyone her belief that Mas was Peter's father. That gag order remains in effect.
It was the first of many unusual twists the paternity case would take as it has played out in Judge Eugene Fierro's courtroom in the Dade County Courthouse. There is, for example, the intriguing role of the guardian ad litem, appointed by Fierro to represent Peter and his brother Adam in the proceedings. The guardian was simultaneously defending himself against a paternity claim in Broward County. Even more curious is the position taken by Beatrice's ex-husband, a convicted cocaine trafficker who joined the lawsuit on Mas's side after receiving a $9000 loan from Mas's bodyguard.
Although the local and national media have extensively chronicled Mas's frequent forays into national politics and international relations, the paternity case has escaped detailed scrutiny. This may have been due less to a lack of interest than to the unusual delicacy with which the case has been treated by the court. In addition to being affected by a sweeping gag order, the lawsuit has been notable because at one time all pleadings were sealed.
The judge's order to seal documents was eventually challenged by lawyers for the Miami Herald, and the newspaper gained access to the court file in June 1995, but only after it acceded to certain unusual conditions.
Before a Herald reporter could examine the file, for example, all four attorneys involved in the case were instructed by Judge Fierro to review the pleadings and submit them to a "test." They had to determine whether the documents contained information that would identify the children or their parents or that would otherwise not be in the "best interest" of the children. In cases where the documents were deemed to have failed the test, they were to be given to the Herald's attorney for safekeeping. The attorney was not permitted to show the documents to any Herald reporter unless those involved in the case gave their unanimous approval to release the documents or unless Judge Fierro granted permission.
Furthermore, the Herald agreed not to attend hearings or depositions in the case in exchange for later having access to transcripts of the proceedings. Those transcripts would first be submitted to the same review as the pleadings before they would be handed over to the Herald.
Despite the elaborate agreement, the Herald ultimately published only two short articles that were buried on inside pages. Bill Grueskin, who was city editor at the time of the first article and is now an editor at the Wall Street Journal, declined to comment on the decision to downplay the story. Too much time had elapsed, he said, and he did not remember the details.
From Beatrice's deposition:
Beatrice: From the beginning of our relationship, it was very clearly stated that no one could know, or should ever know about our relationship, because it will damage his public image, and Cuba will suffer, and it will have a detrimental effect on his political career. That was the basis for the relationship to continue.
Kutner: When was that?
Beatrice: Since 1975 when this relationship started. All the way through.
Kutner: Did you agree to those terms and conditions?
Beatrice: I agreed to those terms and conditions . . .
Kutner: And you complied with that agreement, did you not?
Beatrice: I complied because I knew I'd lose him.
Kutner: And why didn't you want to lose him?
Beatrice: Because I loved him very much.
Kutner: Do you still love him very much today?
Beatrice: Yes, I do.
Kutner: And you have loved him from 1975 through today, 1995, is that correct?
Kutner: Without stopping?
Beatrice: Without stopping.
A trim, dapper, dark-haired man of average height, Mas is not physically imposing. Nonetheless, the passion and intensity he brings to Cuban issues lends him near mythic stature among exiles. His counsel is frequently sought by everyone from world leaders pondering realpolitik to newly arrived refugees seeking small favors. His wrath is feared.
After arriving in Miami in 1960, the 21-year-old Mas signed up to fight in the Bay of Pigs invasion. However, the ship he was on turned back without landing, and Mas did not see combat. He later returned to South Florida, where he worked as a milkman and continued to struggle with other exiles to overthrow Castro.
In 1963 Mas was elected to the five-member board of Cuban Representation in Exile (RECE), an anti-Castro group funded by the head of the Bacardi Rum company. According to press reports and confidential FBI files, RECE members, including Mas Canosa, participated in a variety of clandestine anti-Castro operations with the blessing of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
By the Seventies, however, Mas had renounced armed struggle in favor of more conventional power brokering. He also began to concentrate on his personal business interests. With the help of his RECE connections, he built up a multimillion-dollar construction company. Southern Bell and Metro-Dade County were his top customers.
According to her testimony, Beatrice Puig met Mas in 1975, when she was a 25-year-old secretary working at Southern Bell in South Dade. She had recently been promoted, and her new supervisor, Robert Neal Johnson, was in charge of allocating construction contracts. Jorge Mas and his younger brother Ricardo frequently stopped by the office. (In a sworn deposition taken last month as part of a separate lawsuit, Ricardo, who is estranged from Jorge, confirmed that he remembered Beatrice from his visits to Johnson's office.)
The offices of Church & Tower, Mas's construction company, were located not far from the Southern Bell building where Beatrice worked. According to Beatrice's testimony, she and Mas began meeting for lunch and drinks. On Valentine's Day 1975, she recalled, they made love for the first time.
More than twenty years after their first encounter, Beatrice's eyes well up with tears when she recalls the details of her deposition testimony regarding Jorge Mas. A petite, shapely, effervescent woman, she speaks rapidly, her words tumbling together. Her blonde hair is swept up in a loose bun behind her head, and she wears tortoise-shell eyeglasses, thin gold bracelets, and a gold watch to dress up a gray T-shirt worn loosely over white leggings.
She has no receipts to prove that she and Mas ever went out together. No photographs. Her only irrefutable evidence that she ever knew Mas in the Seventies is his signature on her application to become a notary public. Mas, along with her former boss at Southern Bell, attested to her good character. The application, which was returned to Beatrice by the post office, lacks a date, but is postmarked February 20, 1975. It is part of the court file. As are Beatrice's poems, which she has sworn in court she wrote after each meeting with Mas. The poems were written in Spanish and translated to English by a professional translating service.
Because I'm feeling this hope
Awakening in my heart
And a tenderness caresses me
Without reason, without cause,
Because I feel the sun shining
And the flowers growing, growing,
And I hear music in the air
And poetry in the soil,
Because I smile for no reason
And I am dreaming constantly,
Because I tremble inside
Whenever you cross my mind,
I know I am going to cry
And suffer for this endeavor,
But since I can not escape it,
I will love you helplessly!
In a deposition taken on July 5, 1995, Mas denied having had an intimate relationship with Beatrice. However, he admitted that she is familiar to him. (In 1989 and 1990, Beatrice volunteered at the Cuban American National Foundation.) Mas estimated that he had known Beatrice for about five years, but he did not remember how they met.
From Jorge Mas Canosa's deposition:
Woodrow "Mac" Melvin, Jr., attorney for Beatrice: Have you ever had any social or business relations with this woman? [He indicates Beatrice, who is attending the deposition.]
Mas: No, sir.
Melvin: You have never been alone with her?
Mas: No, sir.
Melvin: You never had a romantic relationship with her?
Mas: No, sir.
Melvin: You never had sex with her?
Mas: No, sir.
Beatrice asserted under oath that she continued to see Mas off and on until 1978, when David Puig asked her to marry him. A Cuban immigrant who is three years older than Mas, Puig owned a used-car lot in Little Havana. He was handsome and debonair, with white hair combed back in distinguished, silvery waves. He had the prosperous air of someone who had worked hard and succeeded. Nevertheless, Beatrice said Mas warned her not to be deceived by Puig's attractive appearance.
"He told me, 'Don't do it, he's not the man for you.' He knew him," she recalled in her deposition. But Mas refused to make a counteroffer, she said. He was not going to divorce his wife, and Beatrice could expect nothing from him. "We stopped then," she testified, "and although we kept telephone contact and he called me, I didn't have a sexual relationship with him [again] until 1985." (Attorney Maurice Kutner says Mas did not know David Puig.)
In May 1994, Puig was arrested for cocaine trafficking and for planning a home invasion that targeted another cocaine dealer. During the trial, which occurred six months later, federal prosecutors described the Little Havana car lot as a cocaine entrept, the site of numerous deals involving both David and his son Marcos. (David divorced Marcos's mother before he married Beatrice.)
"Our evidence indicated that David Puig had regularly trafficked in cocaine for about a decade," asserts Assistant U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis, who successfully prosecuted David and Marcos. "He dealt in multikilogram quantities and obtained his cocaine directly from high-level Colombian importers."
Witnesses at the Puigs' portrayed a father-son trafficking team with an array of connections in Miami's white-powder underworld. Acting as middlemen, the Puigs would obtain the cocaine and pass it on, earning a commission of about $1000 on each kilo they handled.
Puig was found guilty by a jury after trial witnesses testified about a 1989 deal that turned sour. David Puig's son Marcos, who was then 28 years old, had received an order for 100 kilos of cocaine from Oscar Bayona, Jr., a close friend of Marcos's since their teenage years. The drugs were for one of Bayona's most reliable customers, a dealer who regularly drove down from Memphis. This time the customer brought along $650,000, enough to pay for the first 30 to 40 kilos. Bayona showed the money to Marcos, who promised to drop off the drugs at Bayona's home.
But then Marcos disappeared.
When Bayona failed to reach Marcos at home or on his beeper, he went to see David at the car lot. "He was with one of his little boys," Bayona recalled in his testimony, referring to Beatrice's sons Adam and Peter. "And I told him, 'Do you know anything about Marcos?' . . . And he assured me that he had spoken to his connection, to his Colombian friends, and that everything was all right."
A few days later men posing as DEA agents burst into Bayona's home in the Roads section of Miami. By coincidence, the real police had the house under surveillance in preparation for their own bust. Seizing the opportunity, the police made their move. Bayona and the invaders were arrested.
In jail one of the participants in the home invasion told Bayona that the Puigs had masterminded the invasion in order to steal the money Bayona was keeping for the Memphis dealer. After receiving a five-year sentence for drug trafficking, Bayona began helping federal prosecutors build a case against David and his son. One of the Puigs' Colombian suppliers was arrested in 1991. He, too, began cooperating.
In 1992 Marcos was arrested on separate trafficking charges. Two years later he and his father were charged with crimes relating to the Bayona home invasion.
Beatrice said under oath that she never suspected her husband was involved in drug trafficking, but she also said she and David quickly became estranged after their wedding, and that she knew very little about his business dealings. "You have to understand, this was a very rocky marriage," she explained. "One day it was good, one day it was bad. One day he was okay, one day he would put a gun to my head." The couple's first child Adam was born in August 1979; they had been married barely more than a year.
Beatrice also said that David was extremely jealous and often accused her of seeing other men, Jorge Mas in particular. Their fights led to frequent separations. Starting in 1981, Beatrice would initiate divorce proceedings almost every year.
From Beatrice's deposition:
Beatrice: After we got married, the first quarrel that we had was about my relationship with Jorge Mas. And he says, "I know all about it."
I told him, "Well, why are you arguing, why are you bringing this up, why are you making a big issue out of it? If you knew before we got married, why did you marry me anyways?" And from that point on, [it] was a nonstop shadow for him.
Kutner: What was his answer when you said to him, "Why did you marry me?"
Beatrice: He told me, "Well, you know, I love you -- this, that, and the other -- but I know that you love him." He always thought that I had not stopped loving him. And that the relationship had not stopped. . . . Throughout my marriage with David, David was always saying, "I'm going to kill you . . . I'm going to destroy you, I'm going to expose your lover," and all those things. "I'm going to break your neck." He physically assaulted me a couple of times.
As Beatrice was suffering through an unhappy marriage, Jorge Mas Canosa was finding his footing as a Washington lobbyist. In 1981 he and three other prominent Cuban Americans formed the Cuban American National Foundation, reportedly at the prodding of the Reagan White House, which hoped the Cubans would help popularize the president's controversial policies in Central America.
The foundation soon made a name for itself through generous donations to political campaigns and relentless lobbying on Cuban issues, chief among them the establishment of a U.S. government radio station similar to Radio Free Europe, which would broadcast to Cuba. In 1983 Mas hosted President Reagan's visit to Miami on the 81st anniversary of Cuba's independence. In a speech introducing the president at the Dade County Auditorium, Mas praised the administration's policies in Central America.
In 1985 the Puigs had separated for what Beatrice believed was the final time. She petitioned for divorce and moved into the Atlantis condominium on Brickell Avenue with her six-year-old son Adam. In her deposition, she stated that she and Mas resumed their affair that spring after she called and asked him for help in securing permission for her aunt and uncle to come to Miami from Costa Rica. Beatrice said Mas told her to call Sen. Paula Hawkins's office and to invoke his name.
These were heady times for Mas and his colleagues at the foundation. On May 20, 1985, Radio Marti went on the air, beaming news, entertainment, and music across the Florida Straits. To commemorate the day, Beatrice wrote a poem honoring Mas. She sent it to a local Spanish-language radio station, where it was read on the air.
Scion of the eastern region, generous and dauntless,
The offspring of your homeland proudly salute you.
You stood up for your people redeeming the Mambises' heritage,
And hailing our martyrs from where you are in exile.
A few days later Beatrice found this message on her answering machine: "Hello, it's Jorge. I've had some difficulty in getting in touch with you. I'll try to call you back. If not, I'll see you on Tuesday. Thank you for everything. I was deeply, deeply, deeply moved and really touched. Thank you." (In his deposition in the paternity case, Mas denied calling Beatrice. But she had saved the tape recording, and when it was played for Mas this past February as he was giving a sworn statement in a separate lawsuit, he acknowledged that it sounded like his voice, but he couldn't be sure.)
The transcript of the radio show and the answering machine tape are now part of the court file. As further proof of her alleged relationship with Mas, Beatrice has also submitted photocopies of her appointment books, as well as her phone book, which lists Mas's private line and his car phone.
From Beatrice's deposition:
Laura Fabar, attorney for David Puig: When were these notes made? [She indicates scribbles in Beatrice's appointment books -- the initials GM, which stood for George Mas, Beatrice's pet name for Jorge Mas].
Beatrice: They were made all through the relationship. There were poems that were made every time I saw him, every time something happened, every time we made love, every time we had an argument. I made notes on my daily pocket diary, not all the time, but sometimes, of things that happened. When I saw him, when I talked to him, or whenever I saw him somewhere.
Fabar: What was so special that you were keeping all these notes of calls and poems to Jorge Mas?
Beatrice: He was the love of my life.
Theoretically, in order to establish who is telling the truth, Beatrice's notes could be compared with Mas's own appointment books to see if the two matched. However, Mas has sworn under oath that no such records exist. When Mac Melvin, Beatrice's attorney, tried to depose Ines Gouge, Mas's personal secretary for 26 years, he learned that Gouge had recently retired and, according to Mas's sworn deposition in a separate case, had moved "up in the mountains somewhere" and couldn't be reached. (Mas's brother Ricardo, who worked for Mas as controller of Church & Tower in the Seventies and Eighties, in a recent sworn statement described his brother as "extremely organized." He testified that Jorge kept a calendar in his briefcase.)
From Jorge Mas Canosa's deposition:
Melvin: In your office, sir, as a matter of routine, you maintain a diary to record your future appointments, things of that type. Do you not?
Mas: No, I do not, sir.
Melvin: Are you not a busy man?
Mas: Yes, sir.
Melvin: Business-wise, politically and socially. And you don't keep any written record somewhere of places you need to be and appointments you need to keep?
Mas: Yes, I am a busy man, sir.
Melvin: But no, you do not keep any written records of the appointments you need to keep?
Mas: I do not keep a written record,
sir . . . No notes, no records, sir.
In subsequent court proceedings, Mas has stated that his new secretary routinely shreds his travel records for "security reasons." When asked to elaborate, Mas explained that he fears that the records will fall into the hands of Fidel Castro. "I'm an opponent of that criminal," he noted proudly. "He is capable of doing anything against his opposition."
From Beatrice's deposition:
Kutner: Okay, April tenth is the first entry for 1985. Okay. What does that entry say? [He points to an entry with the initials GM.] Does it mean sex, lunch, a drink, a phone call?
Beatrice: It says, I think -- because I can't -- I think it says hotel.
Kutner: What hotel does it mean . . .? Did you see him at the hotel?
Beatrice: If that's what I put, that's what happened.
Kutner: What hotel?
Beatrice: Usually we met at the Ramada Inn that is by the airport.
Kutner: Okay, is that where you had sex?
Kutner: Who registered for the room?
Beatrice: He did.
Kutner: Under what name?
Beatrice: I don't know. He would go to the hotel, register, call me with the room number, and I will go in after.
Beatrice explained that she and Mas saw each other sporadically throughout the spring and summer of 1985. Besides rendezvousing at the Ramada Inn, they would sometimes go to the Quality Inn in South Dade or the Eden Motel on SW Eighth Street. Their meetings were infrequent owing to Mas's busy schedule, she said. Mas was often out of town, but he would call when he got back to Miami. That is what happened on July 19, 1985, the day Beatrice claims she conceived Mas's alleged son Peter.
From Beatrice's deposition:
Kutner: So there's no confusion. Did you have the sexual protection that you used? What do you call that?
Beatrice: The diaphragm.
Kutner: The diaphragm . . . now why didn't you have the diaphragm on July 19?
Beatrice: Because I did not plan to see Mr. Mas. He called me up. He was upset because he had called my house the day before and Mr. Puig, David, answered the phone. My son [Adam] was ill, and he was there visiting Adam. . . . I never knew about the phone call until [Mas] called me and told me. . . . He was very mad. He was coming from a trip and he wanted to stop by the apartment.
I explained to him that my son was ill. He used to get very high fever. So his father was there visiting him, and [Mas] wanted -- he demanded to see me. I told him, "I can't see you, Adam is sick. I have to go home early." [He said], "I have to see you today." It was pouring down rain. I told him, "Look, I did not bring any protection."
[He said], "Don't worry about it. I will take care of it."
So I did go to see him. He did not take care of it. And I told him, "I told you I didn't have no protection." And he said, "I'm sorry, I couldn't help it." And I said, "Well, well, mark the date." And that's why the date is marked with a circle around it."
Just as Beatrice feared, a pregnancy test taken shortly after their encounter came back positive. "I had talked with [Mas], I had discussed this problem," she recalled during her deposition. "And of course, his same dealings as before prevailed. [He said], 'I would have no part of this. I can't afford the publicity. You know there's nothing I can offer you. There must be other ways, other options.' And I told him I would never have an abortion, especially of his child."
As Beatrice explained in her deposition, she decided to reconcile with her husband because she did not want to give birth out of wedlock. In the fall of 1985, she said, she sent Mas a poem, a copy of which she saved. It has become part of the court file.
I know that you can't love me any more, and it is almost understandable.
You left inside of me the seeds of our mutual love,
And it must die in you to let it grow in me.
Forever fused, your love and mine,
At last, together!
Inside one heart, inside one life!
Beatrice said she led her husband David to believe that Peter, who was born April 7, 1986, was his child. For the next nine years she would list David as the father on numerous official documents, including Peter's birth certificate, the emergency contact card filed with his school, his baptism certificate, and her multiple petitions for divorce.
Despite Beatrice's assurances, David was never completely convinced that he was the father of her children, suspecting that he had been cuckolded not once, but twice. During a court hearing, Beatrice's brother-in-law testified that David had shared his suspicions with him that Mas was the true father of both young boys.
In July 1989, the Puigs finally divorced. At that time, Beatrice testified, she was tempted to stop lying about Mas being the father of her son Peter. "But I was under the complete influence of Mr. Mas . . . and I was trying to protect him," she explained at her deposition. "See, I love him. I didn't want to hurt him. And I was trying to work this in a way so that our relationship would not suffer. And that we could accomplish both things, and not destroy his image publicly or personally. That was not my intention."
Instead, Beatrice said, she tried to nurture an emotional bond between Peter and Mas. She showed [Mas] pictures of the boy. One day she took Peter to Mas's office. "I [had] to go one step at a time," she recounted, "because [Mas], when he gets threatened, he withdraws."
Her efforts backfired. In early 1990 she visited Mas at work. "He told me he needed to call it off because he didn't have time to warm up a relationship," she recalled during her deposition. But Beatrice wasn't about to let him off the hook so easily. She retained Miami Beach attorney Charles Neustein to file a paternity suit.
In a March 12, 1990 letter to Mas that is included in the court file, Neustein wrote, "As you know, you are the father of Peter Puig, age 3. My client requests that you at this time acknowledge that Peter Puig is your son and that you assume your parental responsibilities including support of Peter Puig."
According to Beatrice's sworn statement, she got an irate phone call from Mas immediately after he received the letter. He demanded that she write another letter, which he dictated, requesting that Neustein abandon the case. A copy of the letter she scribbled down in her pocket diary is now included in the court file.
In a court hearing, Neustein testified that Mas then called him directly. Neustein said they had a brief conversation in which Mas sought assurances that the allegations would remain confidential. (Mas has testified that he does not recall receiving any letter from Neustein.)
Beatrice alleged in her testimony that Mas agreed to pay $150 per month in child support in exchange for her dropping the paternity suit. (The amount was equivalent to the child support David was ordered to pay for Peter at the time.) Beatrice said she and Mas met in a Southern Bell parking lot near the Mall of the Americas on March 20 to hammer out their agreement. (The date is listed in her 1990 appointment book.) "I said, 'I want a DNA test taken,'" Beatrice recalled in her deposition. "And he says, 'Please, give me some time, I will do it.'"
For the next three years, Beatrice alleged, Mas made irregular cash payments, providing three months or six months in advance. However, she has no bank records that confirm she received the money. Mas, she claimed, continued to dangle the promise of a DNA test, but it never happened.
With the White House occupied by George Bush, another Republican foe of Castro, Jorge Mas Canosa found himself busier than ever: congressional testimony, overseas trips, international consultations. In February 1990 Florida Gov. Bob Martinez appointed Mas to a twelve-member advisory commission charged with studying how change in Cuba would affect the Sunshine State. In December 1990 he visited Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel in Prague, a meeting that allegedly paved the way for the Czech Embassy in Washington to kick out the Cuban Interests Section that had long been housed there. Six months later he and other foundation officials were in Central America, meeting with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
His peregrinations attracted attention. Major newspapers began running lengthy Mas profiles, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. A May 1992 cover story published by the Los Angeles Times Magazine reflected the media's slant on Mas, describing him as "the most influential Cuban in America."
As his celebrity spread, so did Mas's reputation for ruthlessness. In 1989 Mas reportedly bragged to Spanish-language radio listeners that he was responsible for a federal raid targeting Ramon Cernuda, a Miami publisher whom Mas accused of purchasing Cuban art in violation of the embargo. His statements were subsequently reported by the New York Times. The following year, Mas was ordered by a Dade jury to pay his brother Ricardo $1,200,000 for unfairly libeling him in letters to a prospective employer. Four years earlier, Mas had agreed to pay his brother $245,000 after a falling out between the two men degenerated into a slugfest.
After the Miami Herald published an editorial sharply critical of the embargo-tightening Torricelli Bill, which was Mas's personal legislative project, the newspaper's executives received death threats, and newspaper vending boxes were smeared with excrement. While Mas distanced himself from the anonymous campaign, he openly attempted to organize an advertising boycott and attacked the paper's credibility by plastering the slogan "I don't believe the Herald" on the backs of city buses. Mas also castigated the newspaper in the Spanish-language media.
In a long article written by Mas and published February 2, 1992, in the Herald, the exile leader proclaimed his support for free expression, despite his opposition to the Herald. "I am a religious man, dedicated to my family and my community, and nothing hurts me more than being accused of intolerance," he wrote. Mas went on to criticize the Herald for practicing advocacy journalism and warned that the newspaper would be unsuccessful in its attempts to discredit him. "It would be far easier for me to join your powerful establishment," he wrote. "I am blessed with a wonderful family and financial resources. . . . Sometimes, however, we must take the difficult road, and I am determined to fight for the dignity, the integrity, and the values cherished by our Cuban-American community."
The campaign was criticized by the Washington-based Human Rights Watch/Americas, a respected human rights watchdog group, in a study published in 1992. The Inter-American Press Association also launched an investigation of the affair.
In her deposition, Beatrice said that she and Mas continued to meet and spar over his responsibilities to Peter throughout those tumultuous years. Their sexual relationship, however, was over. By December 1993, Beatrice testified, Mas decided to end all contact. "He told me, 'I can't continue this. I don't have no obligations with you or Peter.'" A $1000 cash gift for Christmas, she said, was his last payment.
From Beatrice's deposition:
Kutner: Why didn't you ever have somebody take a picture of [Mas] during this four-year period [in which he was] giving you money, so you could have him?
Beatrice: I didn't want to have him. All I was after was my kid's, you know, the best for my kid. I didn't want to have [Mas]. I was not trying to frame him. I was not trying to extort him. So I didn't have any reason to have a picture. All this time I was still protecting [Mas]. I've always protected [Mas] over and above myself.... I was being very honest and straightforward. I told him exactly what I wanted. I trusted his word, and he trusted mine. When he stopped delivering, then our verbal agreement was over. . . .
Kutner: Have you ever indicated in Mas's presence, to anybody in the world, that you had a relationship with him?
Beatrice: No, I would not dare to do that.
Kutner: Okay. Would you do it now?
Beatrice: Not while these proceedings are going on. I don't have any reason for it. I still, up until when these proceedings were filed, I still very much protected his image, and I try to always.
Kutner: Are you still interested in protecting his image?
Beatrice: I never had any intentions or any reasons to detriment that image or to diminish it other than . . . the best interest of my child.
A few months before her last meeting with Mas, Beatrice said, she began receiving death threats at home and at the office. According to her deposition and court papers, she also received a photograph in the mail of a nude, decapitated man. Suspecting that her ex-husband David was behind the calls, she began surreptitiously monitoring his phone line from her office at Southern Bell. She also tapped into the line of an ex-boyfriend, as well as the line of the man she was currently dating. She did not suspect Mas because, as she put it in a sworn statement: "If he was doing anything . . . he will not talk on the phone about it, and he will not do it personally . . . he would send somebody."
Southern Bell discovered Beatrice's unauthorized actions in March 1994, and she was terminated from her $48,000-per-year position as a supervisor. In her deposition she explained that, after she was fired, she was overwhelmed by bills. She said she turned to Mas for help, but he wouldn't return her phone calls. Frustrated and hurt, Beatrice again considered filing a paternity suit. She persuaded Miami attorney Woodrow "Mac" Melvin to take the case. That summer of 1994 Melvin began negotiating an out-of-court agreement with Maurice Kutner, an attorney representing Mas.
Sometime around August, Beatrice got a call from her ex-husband David, who was out on bond after his arrest for cocaine trafficking. According to Beatrice's testimony, David demanded to see her. They met in the parking lot of a Burger King on Le Jeune Road, and David showed her an anonymous letter he had received in the mail informing him of Beatrice's intent to file a paternity lawsuit against Mas.
At her deposition she recounted, "He said to me, 'I will not be a witness for you . . . against Jorge Mas. I believe he's the only man that can save Cuba.' And I said, 'Well, that's news to me, because you used to hate his guts and turn off the TV every time he was on it, and talk out loud against the Cuban American National Foundation, so what's in it for you?'"
David didn't respond, and Beatrice heard nothing more from him about the matter until October 1994. Negotiations with Mas's attorney were stymied, and Mac Melvin was preparing to file the lawsuit when his plans were derailed by an emergency motion presented to Circuit Court Judge Joan Lenard. The motion was filed as part of David and Beatrice's old divorce dispute, an unusual legal maneuver that reopened the 1989 case.
Acting on behalf of David Puig, attorney Laura Fabar informed the judge of Beatrice's intention to file the paternity suit. If Lenard didn't do something immediately, Fabar argued, it would be too late. Beatrice would have the opportunity to tell her sons that David was not Peter's father "thereby causing irreparable emotional and psychological devastation" to both of the boys. (In a recent interview, Maurice Kutner, Mas's lawyer, conceded that he "probably" gave copies of his correspondence with Melvin to Fabar, alerting her to Melvin's plans to file the paternity suit. Fabar will not say how she came to represent David Puig.)
After reviewing Fabar's motion, Lenard, who was appointed to the federal bench this spring, issued an injunction the attorney had prepared forbidding Beatrice from "informing or telling the parties' two minor children or any other third parties that the Former Husband is not the real father of the parties' minor children. This includes the filing of a lawsuit or other legal proceeding."
Melvin objected and the divorce case was then transferred to Judge Eugene Fierro, based on Dade's system of assigning cases to judges at random. Fierro modified the injunction at Melvin's request, permitting Beatrice to file the paternity lawsuit. The other aspects of the gag order remained in place, however.
Throughout the case, Melvin would repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, argue that the injunction was an egregious violation of his client's constitutional right to free speech. In a brief filed July 20, 1995, with the Third District Court of Appeal, Melvin described the limitations imposed by the injunction as unprecedented. "No court has ever upheld such Draconian intrusions into free speech and due process in the name of 'privacy,'" he wrote.
"The court has always entered injunctions when a statement [by a parent] would potentially harm a child," counters Fabar, explaining that during divorces mothers are sometimes blocked from making derogatory comments about their spouses to their children, for example, telling them that their father is "a lowlife."
Other lawyers and judges who are familiar with the case, however, say that the gag order against Beatrice is unusual in its degree of restrictiveness. First Amendment expert Bruce Rogow says he finds such injunctions to be inherently troubling. "It does raise substantial First Amendment issues," he points out. "Mothers tell their children things all the time that leave lasting scars. Are we going to get to the point where we let the courts tell parents what they can and can't say to their children?"
Nonetheless the appellate court allowed the gag order to stand, noting that the injunction was "evidently entered out of concern for the privacy interests of the child."
Meanwhile, the paternity lawsuit began to unfold as if it had been scripted by John Grisham. According to court papers, shortly after Beatrice hired Melvin, she claimed that three men arrived at her home in Kendall and tried to abduct Peter, who was outside playing baseball with two friends from the neighborhood. The children dashed inside Beatrice's house to escape the men. They told her that a white car had driven up and one of the men had gotten out and started heading for Peter.
The intrigue heightened after the suit was officially filed on November 21, 1994. In a written statement Mas issued addressing the suit, he stated, "In a speech broadcast to the international press in late August 1994, Fidel Castro singled me out as his American nemesis, as head of the Cuban Mafia. Since that speech, the Cuban American National Foundation has been advised by its supporters in Cuba that Castro has targeted me for a character smear campaign.
"The foundation suspects -- but cannot substantiate -- that that campaign has begun. I am currently threatened with a demand of financial extortion of several million dollars to silence a woman who claims I am the father of her nine-year-old son."
The statement appeared to be designed to evoke sympathy for Mas and discredit Beatrice. It was also psychologically wounding. If Beatrice was telling the truth about their alleged relationship and about her willingness to sacrifice her feelings for Cuba's benefit, this was the most hurtful thing Mas could have said A and it proved to be portentous.
Lawsuits ideally reflect a quest for truth, and a naive person might assume that Beatrice's paternity suit would have established whether in fact she had an affair with Mas or whether she was trying to extort money from him, as well as whether Mas was the father of her son Peter. But in 1993 the Florida Supreme Court ruled that paternity cases involving legitimate children (those with a known legal father, if not a known biological father) must first be decided on the basis of whether the lawsuit is in the "best interests" of a child before the truth about a child's paternity can be established.
When the ruling was issued, a dissenting justice pointed out that with its decision, the court was ironically allowing unacknowledged biological fathers to argue that they need not pay child support because it would be detrimental to their offspring's welfare. "The welfare of the child demands that we recognize and honor not the fiction but the underlying purpose upon which the fiction was created," wrote Justice Stephen Grimes. What Grimes referred to as "the fiction" was the assumption that the legal father of a child was his biological father. But the idea of fiction took on another meaning in Beatrice's lawsuit as different versions of reality spun uncontested through the court.
According to the court, the identity of Peter's father was irrelevant to the proceedings. "Court after court in the United States has held that the presumption [of legitimacy] and its related policies are so weighty that they can defeat even the claim of a man proven beyond all doubt to be the biological father," the court stated in HRS v. William Privette. "It is conceivable that a man who has established a loving, caring relationship of some years' duration with his legal child later will prove not to be the biological father. Where this is so, it seldom will be in the childrens' best interests to wrench them away from their legal fathers and judicially declare that they must now regard strangers as their fathers. The law does not require such cruelty toward children."
The ruling led to something that became known as a "Privette hearing," in which a determination must be made as to whether a lawsuit would be in a child's best interests A before a blood test could be ordered to establish paternity. It explicitly gives the legal father the right to participate in the proceedings, and specifies that children must be represented by guardians ad litem.
By early 1995, David Puig had been convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. He eventually was sentenced to more than twelve years in prison. From his prison cell, Puig energetically entered the paternity case on the side of Jorge Mas Canosa. Meanwhile his lawyer, Laura Fabar, submitted a separate motion in the unexpectedly reopened divorce case stating that Puig was indigent and could not pay child support.
If Puig was broke and in prison, then who was paying Fabar? Mac Melvin, Beatrice's attorney, wondered about that. The answer raised even more questions, for it turned out that the money to pay Fabar had come from Mario Miranda, the director of security for the Cuban American National Foundation and Mas's bodyguard. Miranda had loaned Puig $9000. (Miranda did not return phone calls seeking comment about the loan.)
During Puig's deposition, taken July 13, 1995, at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in South Dade, Melvin's queries about the loan provoked tears from Puig, plus a rambling, extemporaneous address on the meaning of manhood, and then a medical emergency.
When did Puig receive the money? Melvin asked. "When this thing started," Puig answered, growing more and more upset as he continued to speak. "Which is even shameful to discuss. That a son that I'm told is mine that now, that I took him from his mother's -- I took him out of his mother's womb, that now they want to take him away from me and tell me he's not mine. That's ridiculous.
"I do know her well," he said of Beatrice. "Better than her mother and her father. I'm not going to speak of her because that is not something a man would do." Puig began to weep. He did not answer Melvin's question. "I need to go to the physician and take a pill," he announced.
Puig was given an electrocardiogram, and the prison's staff psychiatrist recommended that the rest of the deposition be postponed. It was never resumed. During a recent phone interview from prison, Puig said he decided to enter the case on Mas's side because Beatrice was "a whore and a prostitute who will go to bed with anyone.
"The only thing she is looking for is money," he seethed. "She doesn't care anything about how I feel for the child or what the child feels for me." Puig insisted that Mario Miranda was an old friend who had offered to help him out and that he had not made any deal with Mas. He said that neither Mas nor Miranda has made further contributions to help him pay for a lawyer to appeal his criminal conviction. (His appeals lawyer, Marcia Silvers, says she has never heard of Jorge Mas Canosa. Puig's current wife says she and Puig's friends and family members pitched in to come up with Silvers's $12,500 fee.)
Regardless of how it was initiated, Puig's decision to oppose Beatrice's paternity suit represented an incontrovertible stroke of luck for Mas. According to legal experts, the presence of a legal father who strongly argues in favor of retaining his parental rights can be the determining factor in how a Privette hearing is decided.
Underscoring his own opposition to the paternity suit, Mas submitted a brief affidavit that read: "1. I have never known Peter Puig, I have never spoken to Peter Puig, and I did not know of his existence prior to this lawsuit. 2. I have never had a relationship of any kind with Peter Puig and will never have a relationship of any kind with Peter Puig in the future."
That left only the guardian ad litem to argue, on behalf of Peter Puig, that it was in the boy's best interest to know whether Jorge Mas was his father. But Stephen Butter, the 55-year-old attorney who was appointed by Judge Fierro, quickly concluded that Peter would be better off not knowing.
Less than one month after his appointment, Butter filed a lengthy memorandum of law advising Judge Fierro to dismiss the paternity suit. He adopted a similar stance in his 30-page Privette report, filed on March 6, 1995. The report, replete with colorful observations about fatherly love, urges the judge to halt the paternity proceedings and to strengthen the gag order to prevent Beatrice, David, or anyone else from discussing the issue of paternity with either child.
"The judicial process we have undertaken leads us on a course of decay and destruction," Butter warned ominously. He speculated how Peter would feel when he watched Father Knows Best if he learned about the suit, and listed questions that Peter might ask himself, including, "How do I explain this to my friends at school?" and "Why did they scar me for the rest of my life having to wonder if the father that I love so dearly is not my biological father?"
Butter expressed his conviction that determining that Mas was Peter's father would hurt Peter's relationship with his older brother because it would mean they no longer shared the same economic status. "Right now the boys have bonded together ready to attack life's concerns as a team, equally armed with love for their father, for their mother, love for one another," he wrote. "They are equally armed with the same social background and economic circumstances and one father they can go to for never-ending love."
Soon after Butter filed his report, Melvin demanded that he be replaced as guardian ad litem. Melvin pointed out that Butter had failed to include the medical, financial, psychological, and personal history of the parties involved. "The minor child is entitled to a thorough guardian's report based on a full evidentiary record," Melvin wrote in a March 21, 1995 pleading that detailed his objections to Butter's report.
In a later document asking the judge to limit the guardian ad litem's fees, the cost of which was to be split between Mas and Beatrice, Melvin protested Butter's estimate that he should be compensated at least $200,000 for his work on the case. Melvin noted that Butter had voluntarily participated in time-consuming court hearings. "Generally he has elected to be deeply involved," Melvin wrote, "doing elaborate legal research that in the most part only duplicates the legal research relied on by [attorneys for] Mas and David Puig."
Fierro denied Melvin's motions and deferred ruling on the issue of fees until the suit was concluded. But several months later Melvin filed another request to remove Butter. "Mr. Butter has tainted his guardianship with unethical conduct," Melvin wrote in a August 23, 1995 pleading. Butter's transgression: Soon after accepting the appointment of guardian ad litem, he became embroiled in his own paternity case in Broward County.
Butter took the same position in both cases, arguing that it would hurt the boys to know who their biological fathers were because they had already bonded to other male figures. He denied that his own paternity case created a conflict with his position as guardian ad litem. "We all come to this court with our life's experiences," Butter wrote in response to Melvin's request that he be discharged. "That's true for the litigants, the several lawyers, and our most respectful jurist Honorable Eugene Fierro." Affirming that his own experience convinced him that Beatrice's claim was not in the best interest of her child, once again he urged Fierro to halt the proceedings.
In a recent interview, Butter pleaded ignorance as to the reasons he was selected by Fierro to be guardian ad litem in the case. He suggested that the judge may have read an article he published in the Florida Law Journal around the time of his appointment. He specifically denied having a professional or personal relationship with the judge, despite having been a member of Fierro's election committee in 1990. "Lawyers typically get the endorsement cards [when a judge is running for election] and we sign them and routinely send them back," he explained. (Judge Fierro, in a separate interview, contradicted Butter's speculative account. The judge acknowledged that he has known Butter for years, and described him as one of the most experienced family lawyers practicing in Dade County.) Butter also claimed to have had no prior contact with Mas. "I didn't even know who he was when I accepted the position," he said.
In his final order, which removed all restrictions on access to the court file, Judge Fierro stated that he did not rely on Butter's report or his testimony in deciding the case.
Anticipating that controversy would arise from Beatrice's lawsuit, Fierro appointed Dan Pearson to act as special master to oversee the pretrial depositions. (A former state appellate court judge, Pearson was recently appointed by President Clinton to oversee a federal investigation into the finances of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.) Although a party to a lawsuit will sometimes seek the appointment of a special master, such requests usually occur after conflict has arisen, not before. According to legal experts, it is unusual for a judge unilaterally to appoint a special master before any depositions are taken.
The Privette hearing was held August 3 and 4, 1995. Jorge Mas did not attend. David Puig filed written remarks from the Metropolitan Correctional Center. "I want you to know that I was in the delivery room and I held my son even before his mother held him in her arms," he wrote. "I changed diapers, fed, and bathed my son. . . . I attended school parties and extracurricular activities with my children. . . . I am Peter Puig's father and I want to remain Peter Puig's father. I realize I am not perfect, but I am still his father."
Dr. Nancy Greenfield, a psychiatrist and expert witness hired by Mas, recounted her interview with David Puig in prison. According to Greenfield, David began to sob when he spoke about missing his children, re-enacting his memories of feeding Peter when he was a baby by cradling his arms and making a motion as if he were kissing a baby's foot. She described Puig as "extremely sincere." In contrast, Greenfield characterized Beatrice as obsessive and narcissistic and said Beatrice feels it is acceptable to distort the truth. She added that, in her expert opinion, it would be "extremely destructive and damaging" to proceed with the paternity case.
Judge Fierro praised Greenfield's testimony as "compelling" and extensively cited her remarks in his final order issued this past December 27. David Puig "has financially, emotionally, and physically cared for the child when it has been within his ability to do so," Fierro wrote. "The father has not abandoned the child but has tried to maintain his relationship with his son despite his incarceration."
He added: "The Court finds that it is uncontroverted that [Mas] wants nothing to do with the child." Fierro ruled it was not in the boy's best interest to continue the proceedings. He denied Beatrice's request for a blood test and dismissed the lawsuit. Mac Melvin has appealed Fierro's order.
Two counts of damages against Mas remain pending as part of the paternity suit. Similar in substance to the other allegations, but differing slightly from a legal standpoint, these charges allege that Mas had a duty "not to trick or deceive" his son regarding the fact that he was the boy's biological father.
Maurice Kutner, Mas's attorney, calls the charges "a joke." The case is over, he declares. "It was about a vindictive, mercenary woman who didn't care anything about her kid and who tried to make a big score against someone she met at the phone company who she thinks has a lot of money."
In April 1989, Beatrice Puig wrote a poem that seemed to give expression to a profound sense of frustration at being hopelessly torn between conflicting desires:
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Cuba! If I did not love you so, I would hate your name
Since your problems steal from me the love of that man
Who carries in his deep voice the pattern ofyour mountains
And in his veins the fire of your Mambi race,
That man who keeps for you his struggles,
His restlessness, his afflictions, his ideals, his pillars,
And who in vain my humble heart calls,
For in your sad flag his passion was lost.
Cuba! Proud rival that I venerate,
Your most faithful soldier is my martyrdom,
Because in his tenacious battle to liberate you,
He involves himself in a thousand battles, decisively,
And I lose his soul in your defeats
And in all your victories his love!
Lately Beatrice has been thinking less about her homeland. She is getting older now, and suffers from a disease of the inner ear that causes debilitating bouts of dizziness. She is gradually losing her hearing.
Currently she operates her own business, renting office space and providing secretarial services to small firms. But what will her son do, she wonders, if the illness progresses, if she can no longer work?
During her court case, she testified that she was no longer certain that Jorge Mas Canosa is the best man to lead Cuba. "He's a very dominant person that manipulates -- knows how to manipulate people," she said. "It is his word and nobody else's. It is his law and nobody else's. And he doesn't like people to cross him. . . . I'm just thinking that if he cannot have his way, it cannot be anybody's way -- and that will not be good governmental policy."