Spies R Us: Just Another Miami Story

February 5, 2000 - Miami Herald - Susana Barciela

Among the many stereotypes assigned to Cuban Americans is that they exaggerate a lot, particularly when it comes to the evils of Cuba's totalitarian regime. Now announce to the world that we have Cuban spies in Miami - with code names, microdots and hidden compartments no less. The typical reaction outside South Florida: Yes, and next you're going to tell me about Santa Claus.

But it's true. The spooks that is. And now it's official.

Last week the first confessed spy, Alejandro Alonso, was sentenced to seven years in the clink for his part in the self-named La Red Avispa, The Wasp Network. Yesterday, Joseph Santos got four years while his wife Amarylis Silverio Santos got 3 1/2 years. Yet another couple that has admitted guilt, Nilo and Linda Hernandez, last week asked the judge to please delay their sentencing.

Altogether, the U.S. Attorney in Miami has indicted 14 in the case of the Cuban spy ring that seems straight out of a John le Carre novel.

Consider: The five confessed spies have flipped to provide federal prosecutors dirt that presumably will be used against their alleged co-conspirators. Another five are scheduled to go to trial in May. Four remain fugitives, including the infamous Juan Pablo Roque, the apparent double agent who surfaced in Havana shortly after Cuban Air Force MiGs blasted two Brothers to the Rescue planes and murdered their four fliers.

Ironically, though, it is only Gerardo Hernandez - first indicted under his alias Manuel Viramontes, aka Giro, aka John Doe No. 1 - who is charged with conspiracy to murder "with malice aforethought" in connection with the shoot-down. Whoever he is, Hernandez the alleged spymaster is accused of directing his fellow "wasps" and plotting successfully to wreak a violent confrontation with Brothers to the Rescue.

The hearings and legal motions so far titillate with promise. FBI counterintelligence experts have amassed more than 10,000 pages of classified documents related to this case alone. How much of that information will become public at trial certainly is something to dream about.

Prosecutors say that the spymaster got big commendations and a promotion for his part in the Brothers murder - even the "Commander-in-Chief" in Cuba had declared that the spies had decisively helped deal "a hard blow to the Miami right." Curiously, the U.S. government stopped short of indicting the "Commander-in-Chief" or the spymaster's bosses in the same conspiracy.

Prosecutors also claim that among the spy ring's goals were to provoke dissent among Cuban exile leaders, manipulate exile groups and influence U.S. institutions. Their job included sending letters to The Herald's Reader Forum, for instance. I believe I've seen some of those.

Alonso, another example, infiltrated the Democracy Movement and participated in exile group's protest flotillas just outside Cuban territorial waters. Is it any wonder now that the group's voyages appeared so ill-fated?

Now all those stereotypes become clear. Is it any wonder that "Miami Mafia" has become synonymous with Cuban Americans - as if this community ever monolithicly agreed about anything? The spies among us put traffic-stopping Cuban exile protests, along with other ugly and clownish incidents, into a whole new light.

Yes, Virginia, there are Cuban spies in South Florida. They have sowed dissent and disinformation far and wide. We can only guess the extent of what Cuban agents have accomplished in 40 years of a systematic campaign to undermine U.S. policy toward Cuba and the credibility of Cuban exiles worldwide.

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