The Wake-Up Call

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José Diaz also criticizes the Florida legislature's recent eagerness to deprive the public of information by restricting access to public records, not least of all because it interferes with his private investigative business. "It's the worst thing they can do," he believes. "How are we going to know about backgrounds? Private industry has no [way] to find out if they are hiring illegal aliens or not.

"If a terrorist can access illegal weapons and bacteria like anthrax, do you think they cannot get driver's license information? Please, it's child's play. It is infantile to think if you can get weapons, and even weapons of mass destruction, that you as a terrorist with the resources, the money, and the contacts, will not be able to hack into a computer or outright buy it from a city employee. Yet you hear all these people now cry we should ban access to public records."

Rolando Eugenio Martinez refuses to talk about operational issues. It is part of the code of a man who conducted well over 300 clandestine missions into Cuba. Today, still spry and muscular at the age of 79, he deflects questions about how law enforcement should combat terrorism. Professionals in the government will do the job is his stock reply. But he will address more fundamental issues, which Martinez believes the nation must face to strengthen itself.

His almost generational conviction in the importance of supporting the government comes from a deep-seated patriotism to both the United States and Cuba. It is a belief that led Martinez astray when he helped break into the Watergate Hotel in 1972, on what he believed to be the orders of President Richard Nixon. At the time he worked for the CIA, the only agent among the Cuban "plumbers" arrested. He takes pride in the fact that he did not reveal his CIA association, even as he served fifteen months in prison for the break-in.

In 1983 President Ronald Reagan pardoned Martinez. Called "the Cuban James Bond" by some in Miami, he is held in such esteem in the exile community that when he sits at a table at Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho, more than half the people who walk through the door feel compelled to greet him effusively. His bravery, thoughtfulness, and discretion are well-known. In 1991 Norman Mailer wrote in Harlot's Ghost: "Give me a hundred men like Eugenio Martinez, and I will take Cuba myself."

Martinez worries that those around him take America for granted, particularly immigrants. New citizens, he fears, are failing to learn that their status brings with it obligations and responsibilities in addition to economic benefits. Their selfishness harms the community at a time when it needs to be strong.

"The [political] parties are in such a hurry to make you a citizen in order to earn your vote that they do not care about the kind of citizen you are," insists Martinez. "They should make it harder to get. What costs you, you learn to love more. But if you told the political parties [this], they would go crazy."

He is particularly upset by the way many of his fellow Cuban exiles exercise the right to vote. "When you have the benefit of the vote, why would you elect [indicted City of Miami Commissioner] Humberto Hernandez?" he asks. "What are you saying about that privilege that they have given you? Does it say that you are a good citizen?"

Martinez also speaks against a corrosive materialism, which he sees as weakening the nation today. "The problem is the tyranny of the dollar," he believes. "We have to be more spiritualistic than materialistic. That is the most important and difficult point. I don't believe you are successful because you make a lot of money, or because you are lucky, but because there are certain obligations and duties which involve character and respect.

"It is going to take a long time to educate the people of the United States. They have a convenience-store mentality. We have to educate [them] that we all have to do our part. We have to be more realistic in the problem we are facing. [Al Qaeda] are not fighting for money or land. We have to start changing the morality of the people here. We cannot be as complacent as we have been with our leaders. This is the time we define ourselves."

The theme of American arrogance and insularity is one Puerto Rican José Lopez also takes up as he mimics the "ugly American" to try to make a point: “I don't need to learn about your culture and respect [it] because I am the most powerful nation in the world. You have to learn my culture. You have to adopt to the American ways. You have to talk my language. You have to behave according to my guidelines....'

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Jacob Bernstein
Contact: Jacob Bernstein