Longform

Inside the Wasp's Nest

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But as it turned out, Manuel Viramontez was not really Manuel Viramontez, even though FBI agents and federal prosecutors thought he was for many weeks after his arrest. Nor was Texas his birthplace. He actually was Havana-born Gerardo Hernandez, captain in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba. The U.S. Attorney's Office also cast him in a surprise role: Not only was he indicted for spying, but he was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the Brothers to the Rescue shootdown.

As New Times reported three weeks ago ("Cuban Missive Crisis," February 1), Hernandez wrote copiously and spitefully about sundry Miami-based enemies of the revolution, including Brothers to the Rescue, the Cuban American National Foundation, and the Democracy Movement. In all the FBI seized floppy disks containing about 15,000 pages written by Hernandez and his fellow Wasps; 1400 of those pages have become evidence at the trial.

But a midlevel manager of a low-budget Cuban spy ring has a lot more than supervising his agents' fieldwork with which to contend. He has to worry about their financial, physical, emotional, and ideological health in the belly of the counterrevolutionary beast. Not to mention his own. He has to file expense reports and make ends meet in a very expensive capitalist city. And most important, he has to maintain and refine his own false identities. Otherwise he could get caught.


Like a method actor of the underworld, Hernandez prepared meticulously for the Viramontez role or, in the nomenclature of espionage, the Viramontez legend. He even had a Cameron County, Texas, birth certificate, a U.S. passport, and Social Security card all in the name of Manuel Viramontez (who died in California while still an infant). But those documents were just the prologue.

At seventeen pages long, the legend was meticulous indeed, spun with themes of an active socialist imagination. In mind-numbing detail he traces his parents' lives: They were born in Mexico. They came to Puerto Rico as children. They met in college in Texas in the Fifties. His mother's parents died in 1956 in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. "I was born on January 26, 1967," the Viramontez legend states. "My parents had studied in Texas at the University of Edinburgh. My father studied accounting, and my mother studied secretarial sciences...." They graduate, have a daughter, then a son (Manuel), and move back to Puerto Rico in 1970. Little Manuel spends the first twelve years of his life in apartment 8-B in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, a neighborhood about which he writes a laborious history. "The level of crime is respectable," he notes, "with many stolen cars."

Then there's a treatise on his own educational experience from elementary school to college, where he studies sales and marketing. After graduating he takes a $9.06-per-hour job in San Juan as a sales agent for a liquor importing company. He loses his father to bone marrow cancer on October 23, 1991. He lives with his mother, who doesn't own a car because she is still traumatized by her parents' death. "I have a two-door Oldsmobile Delta 88, which I have not wanted to restore, as it belonged to my father," he notes. He had a girlfriend at the time. "Her data is as follows: Name: Adribell Rivera Perez.

Occupation: Senior law student at the UPR.

Father: Alfredo.

Mother: Adis.

Brother: Armando.

Age: 25."

Then he describes his buddies.

Owing to omissions in the documents released by the FBI, the next period of his legend is sketchy. In 1988 he moves to Mexico, where he is married to a woman for six years before the relationship turns sour and they separate. In 1994 he decides to begin a new life in Miami.

While training in Cuba for his mission in Miami, Hernandez had planned for Viramontez to be a photographer. But he decided that would be too pricey for a guy whose bosses allocated about $1500 per month for him. And that had to cover everything: rent, food, phone, electricity, gasoline, cable TV, medicine, dry cleaning, newspapers, magazines, roach killer. On top of that he picked up the tab for his field agents when they met at cheap restaurants (always after conducting strict countersurveillance measures) to discuss operations. "Once here I noticed it was going to be an expensive cover," he wrote to his supervisors in Havana. "And with all our limited resources, it was going to be a difficult one for me to develop." He also considered fronting as an illustrator because he had once worked as one in Cuba. But he concluded the pay was inadequate, at least at places he thought would hire him. Moreover one was a security risk, he concluded: "El Nuevo Herald, for example, pays $100 for each caricature published, and you've seen the shit they put out. Obviously this wouldn't be the appropriate medium, because it publishes the works of two or three of my former colleagues who would certainly recognize my style no matter how much I change it." So like many an artist in the capitalist wasteland, he compromised. "For now this is the story: I do advertising and also sell it as a freelancer."

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Kirk Nielsen
Contact: Kirk Nielsen