Inside the Wasp's Nest

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In Hernandez's computer files were instructions to assume one last identity should he be arrested and proven not to be Manuel Viramontez. In that role of last resort he was to be Roberto Garcia Fernandez, an unemployed dropout who traveled to the United States via Mariel in May 1980. "You came over in a boat that was captained by a strong black man with a mustache, whom you believe was Cuban.... The captain clandestinely dropped off a group of approximately seven people near the coastal area. You then traveled to Miami by land using your own means. From this point on you will legend different jobs associated with gambling and your stay in Puerto Rico, which will justify what you know about that country, up until the point where you were arrested. When arraigned, request an attorney." Hernandez had received another instruction: "Under no circumstances will Giraldo [Gerardo] ever admit to being part of or linked to Cuban intelligence or any other Cuban government organization."

But for reasons still unknown he opted out of that role. The show was over. Three weeks after their arrest, five members of the Wasp Network (Nilo and Linda Hernandez, Joseph and Amarylis Santos, and Alejandro Alonso) pleaded guilty. Hernandez and the four others maintained their innocence, but they would depart from the script initially prescribed by the Directorate of Intelligence. In February 1999 his case was still U.S.A. v. Manuel Viramontez, but by May it was U.S.A. v. Gerardo Hernandez.

By the time he went on trial this past December with four other Wasps, he was an admitted spy. But not much of one, according to Hernandez's lawyer Paul McKenna in his opening argument to the jury. "Mr. Hernandez came here back in 1994.... He attended night school. He made some friends. He had a small apartment he paid about $500 a month on, and it really wasn't what you might think, like some kind of a James Bond pad. It was more like an Austin Powers pad, kind of a joke." McKenna reiterated some of the very same themes a guy named Manuel Viramontez voiced to FBI special agent Oscar Montoto that September morning two years ago. "What was his purpose here?" McKenna asked. "His general purpose was to send information back to Cuba. What kind of information? Information about groups, information about people who interested Cuba. For example in the mid-Nineties there was a wave of terrorist bombings in Cuba.... These bombings were linked back to exile groups from Miami."

McKenna will try to convince jurors that the spying Hernandez did was strictly defensive, not injurious to the United States, and that his client wasn't a party in the decision to destroy the Brothers to the Rescue planes. If the jury doesn't concur, Hernandez could face a sentence of life in prison.

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Kirk Nielsen
Contact: Kirk Nielsen