July 28 – August 5, 1997: Cuba hosted the XIV World Students and Youth Festival, during which it provided a team of 21 interpreters to the 750-member US delegation. According to a highly reliable former Cuban spy who served on team, all but one member were officers in the Directorate of Intelligence (DI). The English teacher assigned to the DI’s “Illegals” Department — Pedro Serrat — led half of the DI participants. “US Targets” Officer Alejandro Pila Alonso, who served as one of the escorts for Elian Gonzalez’s father, also served as a US “interpreter” at the Youth Festival. However, his operational effectiveness appeared largely negated by his pursuit of a beautiful female delegate.
The Latin American delegations; especially Brazil, were targeted by the DI’s Latin America Department, while the European delegates were exploited by the service’s European Department. The festival was seen as such a rare and potentially enormous intelligence windfall that the DI Director personally addressed the participating officers to ensure they understood the importance of this mission. The Directorate of Military Intelligence (DIM) also operated against festival attendees, but more using its extensive role in the tourism industry. It is likely the DIM sought to capitalize upon a low-cost and benign environment to sharpen the operational skills of its small cadre of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) officers. Ernesto Perez DeCardenas was among the DIM contingent at the festival.