HAVANA TIMES — Cuban agent Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo (of the Cuban Five), released from a US prison through a presidential pardon granted him by Barack Obama following long negotiations with Havana, has compared his espionage activities in the United States to those of American agents who infiltrate the terrorist group Al Qaeda and likened Cuban émigré activist Jose Basulto to Osama bin Laden.
During an exclusive interview with Yahoo! News in Havana, Hernandez compared the efforts of Cuba’s Avispa (Wasp) Network, which he led in order to frustrate anti-Cuba operations by exile groups in Miami, with attempts by the CIA to infiltrate terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
“And even in the U.S., where you have drones, you are sending people, dressing them up like al-Qaida people with beards” and infiltrating their training camps. “That’s exactly what Cuba did,” Hernandez said regarding his mission on US soil.
With Special Attentions
Hernandez, 48, answered journalist Michael Isikoff’s questions in the first interview for a US media he’s offered since his release from prison and immediate return to Cuba on December 17, 2014. Isikoff spoke with him and his wife Adriana Perez in the house the Cuban government assigned them for their vacation. Gema, a child born seven weeks ago through a process of artificial insemination which involved the high spheres of power in Washington, is also seen in the video.
The journalist describes the place of the interview as the courtyard of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs villa where the family currently resides, cared for by a team of babysitters, cooks and servants supplied by the government. The interview, published this week, has set off an avalanche of differing opinions on the Internet – at the Yahoo! News forum alone, there are now over 1,600 comments.
Hernandez admitted he was not in a position to decide whether downing the two planes deployed by the Brothers to the Rescue organization on February 24, 1996 was the right call. The incident caused the death of four Cuban-born pilots and led US authorities to dismantle the Wasp Network in 1998, charging Hernandez with conspiracy to commit multiple homicides.
Arrested in September of 1998 and given two life sentences in 2001, Hernandez denies ever having known about Havana’s plans to down the planes, though his messages alerted members of the network not to fly with the Brothers to the Rescue pilots that day. Raul Castro affirms he gave the order for Cuban MIGs to shoot down the light planes over international waters of the Strait of Florida.
“Cuba has the right to see Basulto and the Brothers to the Rescue not as a humanitarian organization that they say they are. Can you imagine somebody like bin Laden now (…) saying ‘From now on, I’m going to be a pacifist, and I’m going to create an organization… just to drop some food’? Can you imagine a scenario like that?” said Hernandez in connection with the humanitarian activities carried out by Brothers to the Rescue while in search of Cuban rafters.
Cuba’s Surreal World
This is the first time Basulto is compared to Bin Laden, who Cuban State propaganda generally compares to the anti-Castro émigré activist Luis Posada Carriles.
“This is part of Cuba’s surreal world,” Basulto told CafeFuerte after learning of the declarations made by the Cuban spy. “Things having to do with Cuba are going from the sublime to the ridiculous more and more and have surpassed all rational limits. One can’t make any serious remark about what is or isn’t real, because we’d be legitimizing the words and accepting the innocence of a convicted murderer,” Basulto, a Bay of Pigs veteran, commented.
The interview touches on the work carried out by influential US Senator Patrick Leahy and his wife, after Adriana Perez asked them for help to conceive a child with her imprisoned husband. Leahy spoke with Justice Secretary Eric Holder to conduct an unusual operation, whereby Hernandez’ semen would be taken at the prison, frozen and transported to Panama, where Perez’ insemination was to take place.
Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has asked the Federal Prisons Bureau for an explanation about this incident involving Hernandez, which she considers “shameful.”
The child was born on January 8 this year. “This is the baby that changed relations between Cuba and the United States,” Isikoff says in front of the couple. Days before, Fidel Castro had declared the child had a beautiful name and had sent the couple flowers.
“I Am Not Technically a Spy”
During the conversation, Hernandez was asked about Wasp Network’s missions that weren’t specifically related to the infiltration of émigré groups, but rather sought out information from US military bases. Antonio Guerrero, one of the fives agents tried and convicted in 2001, had been assigned to the Key West Naval Station, where he secured a job.
Hernandez justified these actions saying they were merely a “small part” of the missions assigned to the network and that, at any rate, his agents never managed to get their hands on “secret information.”
When the journalist asked him whether he was a spy or not, Hernandez replied: “No, technically I was perhaps a foreign agent, which is different. I mean, it’s a wide-encompassing term. I was spying, but, technically, by law, I wasn’t spying on the government of the United States.”
Under US law, intelligence agents who enter US territory without government consent are by definition spies. The US Federal Code regards as a spy anyone who procures defense information in order to use it to detriment of the United States or for the benefit of a foreign nation.” Even if these agents entered the United States to monitor alleged terrorists, they did so for Cuba’s benefit and, consequently, are legally considered spies.
The reporter accompanied the five recently-released spies on a tour of El Romerillo, a poor neighborhood in the outskirts of Havana.
“Women embraced and kissed them, children beseeched them for their autographs and everyone wanted a picture taken with them,” Isikoff reported.
At one point during their tour, Hernandez and the group stopped before a golden statue of Saint Lazarus, the miracle-working saint whom the devout pay tribute to on December 17 every year. That was the date in which Hernandez, Guerrero and Ramon Labañino returned to Cuba, and it also coincided with the beginning of Hanukah (the Jewish New Year) and the release of US contractor Alan Gross.
“The fact that we came back on Dec. 17 — so many Cubans say that’s not a coincidence,” Hernandez said, standing in front of the shrine. “Remember, through 16 years, many Cuban people prayed and asked San Lazaro for a miracle that the Cuban Five will one day come back. So who will tell those people that the miracle wasn’t granted by San Lazaro?”
See the text and video of the interview here: