Pedigree of accused official heightens exiles' consternation

February 19, 2000 - Miami Herald - Elaine De Valle

Miami's Cuban exiles reacted Friday to the arrest of a high-ranking INS official, accused of being a Cuban spy, with a mixture of surprise, horror and vindication.

Most people who talked about the case on Spanish-language radio and in Little Havana cafeterias said they were shocked that the man the FBI charged with espionage is Mariano Faget, the son of a staunch Batista-era anti-communist by the same name.

On Ninoska a la Una, the radio show hosted by the Cuban American National Foundation's Ninoska Perez-Castellon, callers said they were astonished.

"He was the last person anyone would have suspected," Perez-Castellon said. "He was a man who was known principally because of his father. Even though he wasn't active in the community, everyone knew the son of Mariano Faget worked at INS.

"Nobody is surprised anymore that there are Cuban spies in Miami. All Cubans know that. But it is surprising that a spy would be found in the federal government at such a high level," she said.

Luis Fuentes was also astounded.

"It was taken for granted that he was a person who had an affinity for a democratic government," said Fuentes, a regular outside the Versailles cafeteria window on Calle Ocho -- where Faget's arrest was the talk of the day.

Sitting at the table next to him, Domenico Papa agreed.

"To turn around and betray the legacy of his father, who worked so hard against communism -- everyone is shaking their heads," Papa, 68, said.

Like many, Fuentes was also horrified about the possible damage that Faget could have done in his position hearing and deciding political asylum cases.

"How many people has he returned to Cuba knowing that they had a right to political asylum and knowing Fidel would disappear them? How many innocents has he just handed over to their deaths?"

A Cuban-American architect who works exposing human rights abuses in Cuba said that as soon as he heard the news, he recalled problems getting documents from the INS about people who had been political prisoners in Cuba.

"On various occasions, we asked that they help us," said the man, who asked that his name not be used. "We learned that it was through this man, who would make it difficult for us. We didn't understand. We thought a man who is the son of such an anti-communist wouldn't do that.

"From the Cuban government, we'd expect it. But not from this man."

Ernesto Ercilla was also surprised.

"His father had the biggest archives on who the communists in Cuba were. I just can't explain it," said Ercilla, 74, a director of the 2506 Brigade, a group of veterans from the Bay of Pigs invasion. "He had every reason not to do that."

FBI officials have not said whether Faget received payments for the information he allegedly passed. Jorge Carbonel, sipping a cafecito at Versailles, was sure Faget's motive was money.

"There are those who say he could have been blackmailed. It's a known tactic of Fidel Castro," Carbonel said. "But my opinion is that he sold himself.

"Fidel has no money for people to eat or drink milk, but for acts of subversion he has all the money in the world."

Nearly everyone agreed, however, that the arrest -- on the heels of convictions against three of 10 Cuban spies arrested in the fall of 1998 -- is further proof that Cuba has a real intelligence presence in the Cuban community in South Florida.

"There is an infinite number of spies," said Ercilla."

Said Fuentes: "The Americans never took Cuba as a serious threat and now they are realizing that it has even penetrated the federal government." Perez-Castellon said the arrest should serve as a lesson.

"The U.S. government is encouraging seminars and expositions in Cuba, playing baseball games, and Fidel Castro is infiltrating this country with impunity."

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