ANITA SNOW | Associated Press Writer
For years they were familiar faces in Cuba’s opposition movement: the elderly man with a black beret, the reporter who used a cane, the efficient secretary.
But last week, after the government locked up 75 of its most vocal critics, their real identities became known: government spies.
“The True Faces of the Nation” is what the Communist Party daily Granma called them: as many as a dozen men and women who faked opposition to Fidel Castro’s government to gather facts and figures about the dissidents.
Several of the undercover agents were so trusted by American diplomats that they had permission to use computers whenever they wished.
The unmasking underscored the efficiency of the Cuban government’s intelligence services and sent a strong message to diplomats and dissidents alike.
“No one in Cuba is sucking their thumb,” Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said last week, defending the crackdown. “What we have said here is just a part of what we know.”
James Cason, the top American official with whom the dissidents are accused of collaborating, “should know that our nation has learned how to defend itself,” Perez Roque said.
Communist officials apparently identified the agents now because there was political gain in letting the dissidents and diplomats know just how much information they had, said Nelson P Valdes, a Cuba analyst.
“The Cuban government not only penetrated the so-called dissidents, it managed to have people setting up the very organizations that the United States government found attractive, supported and funded,” said Valdes, a University of New Mexico sociology professor.
Informant David Manuel Orrio, the reporter with the cane, told Granma that the decision was based on politics.
“We thought there was still a lot we could do,” Orrio was quoted as saying, but “we understood the political importance of unmasking the traitors of the nation and those who had bought them off.”
Since the mid-1990s, the Web sites of Cuban exile groups in Miami have published hundreds of Orrio’s articles, many of them anti-Castro in tone. He had even helped organize a journalism ethics conference at Cason’s home.
Testimony from Orrio was used to get 20-year prison sentences for independent journalists Raul Rivero and Ricardo Gonzalez.
Also testifying against Rivero and Gonzalez was Nestor Baguer, a wiry 81-year-old in a black beret popularly known as the “dean of Cuba’s independent reporters.”
“I already said it in the trial: they are mercenaries,” Baguer told Granma.
Granma on Friday celebrated the agents as “patriots” and told of them being welcomed as heroes by their neighbors.
“Today we know the true face of the revolutionary and unbreakable nation,” Granma quoted a state security official saying at a welcoming ceremony for Aleida de las Mercedes Godines, the efficient secretary.
Godines most recently worked for Marta Beatriz Roque, sentenced last week to 20 years in prison for collaborating with U.S. officials to undermine Cuba’s socialist system.
Opposition leaders say Godines did the greatest damage to the dissident movement because of her access to documents and American officials.
It wasn’t clear what the agents would do now that they’ve been unmasked, but Baguer wants to keep writing. He’s detailing his undercover work in a book titled “Octavio”—his code name.