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- Three of the five Cuban agents arrested in 1998 remain incarcerated in American prisons
- “The trial and the sentences were revenge”
Juan Jesús Aznarez Madrid 24 OCT 2014 – 19:08 CEST95
The dinner on January 1998 with Gabriel García Márquez was professionally tasty because it was developed in Havana days before the first visit of a Pope to Cuba, Juan Pablo II, and months after the secret interview of the writer with Bill Clinton. We were five people hooked to the anecdotes and revelations of this Literature Nobel Prize recipient for literature, who said nothing, however, about a transcendental subject – the meeting months prior with the then U.S. President to deliver a proposal from Fidel Castro on a joint collaboration of the United States and Cuba on terrorism. After dinner Garcia Márquez spoke in detail about mediations to release political prisoners and strength of government’s positions, but was silent on its recent meeting with a former President whose favorite novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Years before the Caribbean dinner, relations between the two counties were turbulent. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its subsidies, the GDP in Cuba fell more than 30%, and shortages created havoc. The two countries were barely able to solve the consequences of the stampede of 30,000 Cubans to the coasts of Florida in the 1994 rafters’ crisis. The worst of the tensions came in 1996 when two planes of the anti-Castro group Brothers to the Rescue were shot down by Cuban Air Force MIG fighters. Its four occupants were killed. The following year there was a wave of bombings and attacks in Havana aimed at aborting the take-off of the island’s tourism industry. In it an Italian tourist was killed.
It was then that Fidel Castro called his friend Gabo to ask him to report to Clinton on a “sinister terrorist plan against Cuba”. The writer did so during a meeting with Thomas McLarty, Presidential Advisor for Latin America. Negotiations progressed and in June 1998 there took place on the island an unusual meeting between the FBI and Cuban State security agents. FBI agents received videos, photographs and recordings showing evidence of the complicity of right wing exile groups in the campaign of attacks against tourism in Cuba. This was being done through the contribution of money, explosive, labor and new objectives were also revealed, according to official Cuban sources.
Only two months after the Cuban agents who gathered the information, shared with the FBI during that unusual meeting, were arrested.
The Wasp network was dismantled. “Instead of acting against the promoters of the terrorism, Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, they arrested us, who had the mission of preventing it to happen,” recalled Fernando Gonzalez, 50, arrested in that raid in a recent trip to Madrid. He spent 15 years, five weeks and fifteen days in prison on charges of espionage. “Why were we detained at that particular time? Because to the extreme right wing of Miami and its collaborator FBI head of the Miami office, Hector Pesquera, the fact that the United States and Cuba had begun to talk bothered them and they made a political move to sabotage this development”.
On September 12, 1998 the operation against the Cuban network was carried out. They were accused of having tried to infiltrate the inner sanctum of the Southern Command of the army. Early in the morning SWAT teams stormed their homes in South Florida and Los Angeles simultaneously and proceeded to arrest Fernando González, who was sentenced to 19 years in prison, René González, sentenced to 15 years, Antonio Guerrero sentenced to 21 years, Ramón Labañino, sentenced to 30 years, and Gerardo Hernández, sentenced to two life sentences linking him to the shooting down of the planes. The charges in the 2001 trial were acting as foreign agents without registering as such, conspiracy to commit espionage and conspiracy to commit murder.
The infiltration work of anti-Castro groups was arduous. The intelligence agents memorized false biographies, pretended to be politically disenchanted, and said that the revolution had become a police dictatorship and that something had to be done. For the sake of credibility, René González, who served 13 years in prison, stole a plane in Cuba and flew to the Florida Keys. Fernando González invented a commercial mission to disappear from the island. According to Gerardo Hernández, who was considered the operational head of the Wasp network, “Cubans can reach United States in a variety of ways. The only thing they have to say once they arrive is ‘I’m here in search of freedom’, “and immediately they are granted all the immigration papers needed”.
The difficulties faced for not been discovered were many. They had to not only maximize precautions with their contacts, emails but also the use of codes. The underground work also affected their love lives, almost all of them being in their thirties. Hernandez communicated to his bosses the suspicions his neighbors had of him who were surprised of his solitary life being so young and attractive. Instead of becoming promiscuous with frequent partners the agent opted to ask for his wife in Cuba to be transferred to Miami. Antonio Guerrero, who had gotten a job of a janitor at the Boca Chica naval base, had an American girlfriend who wanted to get married but Guerrero evaded her on that question. She was surprised when he used public phones booths rather than using his home phone to take calls after hours.
The trial against “the five anti-terrorist heroes”, as they are called in Cuba, lasted seven months and had wide resonance because it took place in the agitated city of Miami with its more than 700,000 inhabitants of Cuban origin. Robert Pastor, a member of the National Security Council under President Jimmy Carter (1977-81), wrote in the New York Times: “Conducting a fair trial against five Cuban intelligence agents in Miami is about as possible as an agent of the Israeli intelligence receiving one in Tehran”. To this day Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero and Gerardo Hernández remain prisoners.
Seven years ago in an interview with the British news service BBC, Hernandez denied having provided information that led to the downing of the two planes from Bothers to the Rescue on February 24, 1996. In January of that year, they had flown over Havana by launching leaflets encouraging an uprising. “If you check out the information on those days, you will see that José Basulto (leader of the anti-Castro group), publicly announced much before flying, “We will be there (in Cuba) for February 24”.