Published: Sunday, December 31, 2000
By JOSE DANTE PARRA HERRERA Miami Bureau
Staff Writer Vanessa Bauza contributed to this report.
Antonio Guerrero and Maggie Becker frequently talked about getting married.
What Becker didn't know was that whatever their decision, it first had to be cleared in Havana -- by Guerrero's bosses.
Guerrero, a Cuban exile, led a double life, prosecutors say.
He is one of five people on trial in federal court, accused of spying on exile groups and U.S. military installations for the Cuban government.
Their activities and his dilemma over whether to move in with his girlfriend are detailed in more than 1,400 pages of reports and communication transcripts, secretly culled by the FBI from their personal computer hard drives and diskettes.
The documents shed light on the often-difficult personal lives of the members of the "Red Avispa" -- the Wasp Network.
It was a life Guerrero, 42, accused of infiltrating U.S. military installations, often found stressful. The pay was low, the pressure high. His job cost him one marriage, prevented another, and sent him into bouts of depression. To cope, he turned to singing lessons.
Lorient, Guerrero's code name, struggled for money, filed meticulous intelligence reports and worked multiple jobs, all the while estranged from his son and deceiving his girlfriend. It proved too much to bear.
In 1997, the stress apparently triggered a bout of depression.
In a 1998 evaluation, one of his supervisors wrote how Guerrero's color had improved, even if he still had a "bony face" and had not gained weight since he had his "crisis."
His supervisor noted that Guerrero was sticking to a healthy regime of "meat, especially fish, vegetables and fruits." The report went so far as to note that Guerrero's sex life seemed to be getting back to normal.
Foremost, he was taking care of his emotional state by enrolling in singing classes that gave him "a certain amount of emotional balance ... in addition to giving him an outlet for his artistic needs."
In conclusion, it recommended that Havana commanders not put too much on Guerrero's plate to avoid a future episode.
"We should always remember not to load him down with too many activities or additional pressures, that will create a new depressive period," the report said.
Defense lawyers for the group acknowledge their clients infiltrated exile groups and that they were passing information to Cuba. But they say they were not trying to hurt the United States. Rather, they were simply trying to prevent terrorist attacks by exiles against Cuba.
"Everything Tony Guerrero did was in defense of the land his mother and sister and son lived in," said Jack Blumenfeld, Guerrero's attorney. "Tony Guerrero is a patriot in his own land, but he was not here and is not here to damage our land."
The defense has pointed to a string of hotel bombings in Havana to bolster their claim that Cuba was threatened by terrorists.
Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez was born in Jackson Memorial Hospital in 1958, the son of a professional baseball player who came to the United States to work. The family later went back to Cuba, where Guerrero grew up.
For college, he left for the Ukraine, where he got a degree in civil engineering with a specialization in airport construction.
Guerrero came back to Cuba where he married, had a son and then divorced.
The documents don't reveal how Guerrero allegedly became entangled in the espionage world, but in the reports he is depicted as carefully documenting the landings and takeoffs of aircraft at a naval station in Key West.
The first mission the documents show was in 1991, when Cuban intelligence assigned Guerrero to Panama. There he married again, this time to Nitzia Esther Perez Barreto.
The job quickly took its toll on Guerrero's second marriage. In 1992 he was sent to Miami, but Perez Barreto refused to follow him. He divorced her, leaving her pregnant.
Prosecutors say Guerrero's mission in the United States was to infiltrate the Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West to keep Havana informed about any military build up that could hint of an American invasion of the island.
He needed a cover, and he needed money. After a stint working in the kitchen of the Pier House Hotel, he turned to an employment agency. They found him at job at the station itself, doing various maintenance jobs ranging from ditch digging to sheet metal work.
But work is all he did there, his lawyer argues.
"He had no security clearance nor applied for it," Blumenfeld said in court. "He never did one act or agree to do one act that would compromise the national defense of the United States."
Nor did he make much money. Guerrero struggled to stretch his $9.63-an-hour public works salary. At one point, his monthly payments to his son in Panama dropped from $200 to $150.
Havana offered scant economic support. Out of a $30,000 annual budget for the entire operation, $4,800 a year was assigned to Guerrero for "operational expenses and financial help."
Despite those pressures, Guerrero apparently did his job well.
"I would like to congratulate you again, this time for your effort in the searching and establishing of relationships with access to timely info," a supervisor named Saul, apparently in Havana, wrote in 1997. "It is necessary ... for you to continue on this path, guarding above all your security and integrity and to continue on the offensive."
The Cuban personnel record the FBI seized from encrypted computer diskettes lists Guerrero's mission as "visual intelligence against naval air stations" and "obtaining military information from different sources, situation of TV Marti balloons," referring to the station that broadcasts anticommunist shows to the island.
He would then pass the coded reports on to go-between agents or to Gerardo Hernandez, the alleged ringleader, at meetings in pre-arranged places. Hernandez's code name was "Giro." When they met, they would use signals like wiping their hands over their foreheads to warn each other if they were being watched.
In one script for a meeting between Hernandez and Luis Medina III, another defendant, both men are told to meet at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach. Hernandez was supposed to wear a blue shirt and black glasses; Medina was supposed to carry a Time magazine and wear a hat.
To confirm each other's identity, Medina would say, "Are you the publicity manager for the theater?"
Hernandez would answer, "No, the manager is Nelson."
These carefully choreographed meetings at a moment's notice made it a challenge for agents like Guerrero to keep their true identity from their loved ones.
While living in Key West, Guerrero met and fell in love with Margaret "Maggie" Becker. They talked about marriage, but his bosses weren't sure they liked the idea and kept telling him to put it off.
Hernandez, Guerrero's supervisor in the United States, seemed sympathetic to his employee's plight.
In a report to Havana superiors, Hernandez noted that Guerrero seemed to care for Maggie and needed to save rent money. At the same time, it troubled Hernandez that Maggie, a masseuse, did not have a set schedule. That would make it harder for Guerrero to sneak away for secret meetings with Giro, or send covert radio transmissions.
On the positive side, it also would help Guerrero look more normal, Hernandez noted to his Havana superiors. He explained that in some Cuban radio shows, commentators had suggested ways to spot spies: they would likely live alone, and would not be anxious to bring relatives in Cuba to the United States.
Most worrying, if Guerrero were to break up with Maggie, inevitably he would find someone else.
. "The new one could be a Cuban `militant' or spy maniac ... a bandit or a marijuana smoker, to cite just a few possible combinations," Hernandez wrote.
Havana allowed Guerrero to move in with Becker -- with conditions. He should sidestep marriage, and avoid children at all costs.
It wasn't the only aspect of his personal life controlled by Havana. While Guerrero longed to visit his son in Panama, his superiors forbade it. They worried that the boy's mother, Guerrero's ex-wife, might sue him for child support as soon as he stepped into the country.
Such a move could blow his cover.
Through all this, he longed to go home to the island.
In a report Guerrero allegedly sent in 1997, he talked about the things he would do once he went home for vacation, even though he knew Cuba was going through economic problems.
"Brother, I also hope to be able to share a bottle with my brothers. This will depend most certainly on my health," Guerrero wrote. "Oh, I'm going prepared to eat a steak [although I know it's a tremendous luxury during our special period]."
That won't happen for some time. If convicted, Guerrero could face life in a United States prison.
Staff Writer Vanessa Bauza contributed to this report.
Jose Dante Parra Herrera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 305-810-5005.
Copyright 2000, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL