Cuban Spy Ring the Focus in Political Thriller ‘Wasp Network’ 1

A scene from director Olivier Assayas’ thriller, ‘Wasp Network,’ which stars Penélope Cruz.

Marie-Louise Gumuchian

VENICE, Italy (Reuters) – A ring of Cuban operatives seeking to infiltrate anti-government groups exiled in Miami in the early 1990s is the focus of French director Olivier Assayas’ “Wasp Network”, a star-studded political thriller based on a true story.

Starring Penelope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez, Gael Garcia Bernal and Wagner Moura, the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday, where it is competing with 20 others for the top Golden Lion prize.

The action begins in Havana with Cuban pilot Rene Gonzalez, played by Ramirez, flying off to the United States to defect, leaving his wife, Cruz’ Olga, and their daughter behind in the Communist state led by Fidel Castro.

While it appears at first that he wants to start a new life in Florida, he joins other exiled Cubans there as part of a ring known as the Wasp Network, a pro-Castro group.
Led by Garcia Bernal’s undercover operative Manuel Viramontez, they infiltrate Cuban-American groups that want to topple the Castro regime.

“I liked the idea of leading the audience in one direction and then twist it and then we see the other side of the game,” Assayas told a news conference.

Garcia Bernal described the key characters as “spies that are trying to stop violence”.

“There’s something very unique about this story that highlights the act of love that actually made them do this, and the people they left behind support them,” he said.

The film is based on the true story of The Cuban Five intelligence officers who were arrested in Florida in 1998, convicted of espionage and other activities and jailed, before eventually being released after lengthy jail terms as part of a prisoner swap between the two countries.

Assayas, known for “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper”, said shooting in Cuba was “what allowed this film to happen.”

“I thought there would be conditions, strings attached, the reality there was not. We were completely free to make the film as wanted. We were monitored to put it mildly, but there were no consequences on the film,” he said.

Article continues here: Hollywood Fiction

Editor’s Note: Any similarities between this movie and the real Wasp Network are purely coincidental. After all, the real Wasp Network played a central role in the premeditated murder of four Americans, influenced the U.S. political system at the local, state and Federal levels; spied on numerous military targets including SOUTHCOM, CENTCOM, SOCOM, NAS Key West and Barksdale Air Force Base; indimidated American media outlets, manipulated the Cuban American community, etc.  

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Venezuelan Ex-Intelligence Chief Eliecer Otaiza Killed 1

Eliecer Otaiza backed Hugo Chavez's coup attempt on 4 February 1992

Eliecer Otaiza backed Hugo Chavez’s coup attempt on 4 February 1992

(BBC) A former chief of Venezuela’s intelligence service, Eliecer Otaiza, was killed last Saturday, officials have revealed.

Maj Otaiza, a friend and ally of the late president Hugo Chavez, was shot dead outside the capital, Caracas.

President Nicolas Maduro said police would investigate the “suspicious” circumstances of his death.

Maj Otaiza was elected in December as local councillor for the governing PSUV party for the Libertadores area.

Police said the motive for his killing was not yet clear.

The body was discovered on Saturday on the outskirts of the capital with four bullet wounds, said Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres.

The minister added that the major was found without any documents which is why it took police until Monday to identify the body, which had been taken to a local morgue.

He said the subsequent discovery of Maj Otaiza’s stolen and bullet-riddled car led them to suspect the body was that of the councillor.

Maj Otaiza had last been seen leaving a friend’s house on Friday night.

Ties that bind

He was a close friend of the late Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, and backed his 1992 abortive coup aimed at deposing the then-President Carlos Andres Perez.

He was shot four times on 27 November 1992 during an attempt to storm the Miraflores presidential palace, but survived.

Mr Chavez dedicated a chapter in one of his autobiographical books to the major and his role in what the former president called his “Bolivarian Revolution”.

He said Maj Otaiza, then a lieutenant, tried to spring him from a prison in Yare, where Mr Chavez had been sent after the coup attempt.

“He came into the prison masquerading as a woman, and he looked really ugly, by the way,” Mr Chavez wrote.

Mr Chavez recalled how he sent the lieutenant away “to work on the outside for the revolution”.

Maj Otaiza later formed part of Mr Chavez’s personal guard and was named director of the national intelligence service in the early years of Mr Chavez’s presidency.

Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the region and few homicides are ever solved.

Anger about the lack of security and high crime rates, as well as frustration with Venezuela’s poor economic situation have led to mass protests against the government over the past months.

A Cold Case With Connections to Cuba? 4

 A Cuban man, Slain in 1995, Was Preparing to Testify About Cuba’s Bioweapons Capabilities to Congress, el Nuevo Herald has Learned

FILE--Cuban exiles Liliam Rosa Morales , shown here, and husband Manuel Ramirez were murdered in an execution-style shooting in Coral Gables shortly after midnight on Feb. 2, 1995. CM GUERRERO / EL NUEVO HERALD STAFF

FILE–Cuban exiles Liliam Rosa Morales , shown here, and husband Manuel Ramirez were murdered in an execution-style shooting in Coral Gables shortly after midnight on Feb. 2, 1995. CM GUERRERO / EL NUEVO HERALD STAFF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Juan O. Tamayo, JTamayo@elNuevoHerald.com

When Cuban exiles Lilian Rosa Morales and husband Manuel Ramirez were murdered in an execution-style shooting in Coral Gables shortly after midnight on Feb. 2, 1995, most news reports on the case focused on Morales.

After all, Morales, 25, was known as the host of a radio program on astrology and a flashy dresser who favored big hats in vivid colors. The reports noted that her recent New Year’s prediction that Fidel Castro would survive 1995 might have angered a listener.

Ramirez, 57, was mentioned in the reports only as her husband. They said he had died at Jackson Memorial Hospital soon after Morales was pronounced dead at the scene, around the corner from the WCMQ radio station on Ponce de Leon Boulevard.

Few people, in fact, knew at the time that Ramirez was a very important man. He had led the construction of Cuba’s top-security biological laboratories in the 1980s and was preparing to testify about the island’s bioweapons capabilities to the U.S. Congress when the couple was murdered, el Nuevo Herald has learned.

Ramirez also had directed the construction of some of Cuban ruler Fidel Castro’s offices and several military bunkers, and had received a U.S. visa under a semi-secret “national interest” program for top island defectors managed by exiles in Miami.

A former Cuban government official has now told the newspaper that the killer was a petty Havana thief living in Miami who was ordered by Havana officials, perhaps Castro himself, to murder Ramirez for allegedly stealing $2 million from the government.

The killer was nicknamed “Indio” and was rewarded afterward with permission to traffic narcotics from the island to South Florida, said the former government official, who asked to remain anonymous because of fear of retaliation.

No one was ever charged with the murders. The former official’s tale could not be confirmed independently, but some of his key assertions matched details of the case. The Miami-Dade Police Department declined to comment because the case remains active.

Role of Ramirez

Ramirez was clearly the star manager of Cuba’s key construction projects in the 1980s, including the Russian Embassy, the Convention Palace and eavesdropping-proof offices for Castro, which he listed in a nine-page résumé written shortly after he arrived in Miami in 1991.

Read more here: Cuban-Ordered Assasination

Expecting More, But Getting Less 1

     In a recent excerpt from his forthcoming book, Dr. Brian Latell sought to shed light on the long and sordid history of Cuban Intelligence in the assassinations of its foreign enemies (“The Hit Teams That Carried Out Castro’s Vendettas,” Miami Herald, April 21, 2012, http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/21/2760939/the-hit-teams-that-carried-out.html).  Regrettably, the former CIA analyst falls far short in his effort to master the inner workings of Cuba’s espionage services.  As a result, two critical errors must be addressed.

     First, Latell wrote “In the late 1960s, we CIA desk analysts knew…little about his [Castro’s] compulsion for lethal revenge.”  This is a stunning claim, as Cuba’s failed “Black Friday” attack of 1962 remains the largest attempted terrorist assault on the United States prior to 9/11.  Intended targets included the Statue of Liberty; retail giants Macy’s, Gimbels, and Bloomingdale’s; the main bus terminal on 42nd Street; Manhattan’s busiest subway stations—including Grand Central Station; and several oil refineries along the New Jersey riverbank.  Twelve detonators, several incendiary devices, grenades, and 1100 pounds of TNT were to be used on Black Friday – the busiest shopping day in the US.

     Castro’s deadly plan was foiled weeks after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when on November 17, 1962, the FBI detained three diplomat-spies assigned to the Cuban Mission to the United Nations (CMUN).  The three, Roberto Lazaro Santiesteban Casanova; Jose Gomez Abad; and his wife, Elisa Montero de Gomez Abad, led the spy ring tasked with executing the Black Friday bombings.  Two Cuban immigrants, Marino Antonio Esteban Del Carmen Sueiro y Cabrera and Jose Garcia Orellana were also arrested for their role in the conspiracy.  The FBI believed 25-50 others might be involved in the doomed plot.  Given this irrefutable evidence, how could the CIA not know of Castro’s propensity for revenge?

     Latell’s other major error is his assessment that Cuba used surrogates to assassinate many opponents, but the “most sensitive operations” were conducted by a “super-secret four-man squad of [Cuban] assassins.”  Several of the murders he attributed to this Cuban hit team were, in fact, carried out by Argentine proxies.  While this team was trained, equipped, supplied, and directed by Cuban Intelligence, they were assigned to Nicaraguan Intelligence, which provided Havana the requisite “plausible deniability” for such high risk endeavors.     

     Modeled along Cuban lines,Nicaragua’s Sandinista government created an intelligence agency known as the General Directorate of State Security.  Within this organization was the Fifth Directorate (aka VDIR), which conducted Nicaragua’s foreign intelligence activities and covert operations   Established by Cuban Intelligence officer Renan Montero Corrales within months of the Sandinista’s 1979 victory, Montero recruited the military wing of Argentina’s People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) into his Directorate. Guerilla leader Enrique Gorriaran Merlo and about 15 other Argentines were integrated into the VDIR as assassins.  They called themselves the “Nucleus of Steel.”  A known quantity to Cuban Intelligence, Gorriaran Merlo had led a group of Cuban Intelligence personnel to Miami in 1975 to assassinate former CIA member Felix I. Rodriguez Mendigutia.  The mission retaliated for Rodriguez’s central role in the 1967 capture of Che Guevara in Bolivia. 

     In October 1979, the “Nucleus of Steel” traveled to Honduras, where they murdered Pablo Emilio Salazar (“Commandante Bravo”).  Salazar, a prominent Somocista Major from the National Guard, was rallying Guardsmen for action against Nicaragua.  On September 17, 1980, they assassinated Nicaragua’s former dictator, Anastasio Somoza Debayle in Asuncion, Paraguay.  During the early 1980s, the Nucleus of Steel made several unsuccessful attempts to assassinate the Contra’s leadership on the Southern Front (i.e., Costa Rica-Nicaraguan border).  In February 1982, an assassin botched a hand grenade attack against the apartment of el Negro Chamorro.  The Contra commander’s son and a visiting woman were injured. In the June 1983 attempt, former Deputy Health Minister Rodrigo Cuadra Clachar died when the bomb he carried exploded prematurely.  Days earlier, Cuadra had contacted Edén Pastora’s organization, the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE) and told them he wanted to defect. In reality, Cuadra was to assassinate Pastora, a fact known to both the ARDE and the CIA.

     In September 1983, Costa Rican officials discovered and foiled another attempt against Pastora.  A local man and Gregorio Jimenez Basque, a member of the Spanish terrorist group known as Fatherland and Liberty (ETA), were arrested for plotting to bomb Pastora’s car on a frequently used road near Naranjo.  A grenade attack was also attempted against Contra leader Alfonso Robelo.  On May 30, 1984, a bomb exploded at a press conference held by Pastora near La Penca.  In this attack on the most charismatic of the Contra leaders, three reporters and five Contras died and 12 others injured. The “La Penca bombing” proved to be a central event in the war on the Southern Front.  While the attempted assassination was a military failure, it was an international propaganda success as the CIA was universally blamed for the bombing.

     In mid-1985, the Sandinistas launched a major offensive against Contra forces in southern Nicaragua.  Targeted against ARDE, it forced hundreds of Contras into Costa Rica.  These factors, coupled with political infighting, left the ARDE badly crippled.  In 1986 — two years after the bombing — Pastora abandoned the fight against the Sandinista government and requested asylum inCosta Rica.  His exit ended the Southern Front as a viable military force. 

The Nucleus of Steel continued to serve under the VDIR until returning to Argentina in the late 1980s. 

     I am familiar with Brian Latell’s past work and appreciate the high standards of research generally viewed as his trademark signature.  Unfortunately, in this specific instance, Dr. Latell over-reached.  In the U.S. Intelligence Community, it is standard practice that the analysis of foreign intelligence organizations be conducted by Counterintelligence specialists, not intelligence analysts.  The rationale is quite simple, as such analysis serves one purpose:  identify threat spy services so their operations can be neutralized or destroyed.  During his Federal service, Dr. Latell’s analytic products, like those of all analysts, were peer-reviewed to ensure accuracy.  If last Saturday’s excerpt is any indication, his latest endeavor could have benefited from a review by one or more Counterintelligence specialists.