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Dissidents were informers { April 24 2003 }

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'Dissidents' Were Informers
Cuban Trial Reveals Duplicity of Writers, Activists

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 24, 2003; Page A01

MEXICO CITY, April 23 -- Vladimiro Roca, fresh from five years in prison for criticizing Fidel Castro's government, was invited to talk about his experience last May at the home of Vicki Huddleston, then the top U.S. diplomat in Havana.

Roca recalled that Manuel David Orrio, a gregarious and accomplished dissident journalist, stood up to thank Huddleston for hosting and encouraging peaceful opposition to Castro's authoritarian rule.

"He was very well-spoken, talkative and well-educated, and seemed very convinced of what he was saying," said Roca, the son of a Cuban revolutionary hero who split with Castro years ago, in a telephone interview from Havana. "It never occurred to me that he was a spy."

Roca and 50 others gathered that day didn't know that their friend Orrio had another name, too. To his secret bosses in the Cuban military, he was known as "Agent Miguel," one of at least a dozen government spies who had infiltrated the ranks of the journalists, human rights activists, economists, librarians and others espousing democratic reforms in Cuba.

Orrio's spying was revealed in a Havana courtroom earlier this month. He was one of the key witnesses against 75 dissidents rounded up and arrested in what human rights activists have condemned as Cuba's most harsh crackdown on opposition leaders in a generation.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque last week said the arrests were a proper response to aggressive attempts by the United States to undermine the Cuban government. Perez Roque said the United States funds and directs "subversive" dissident activities in Cuba, which U.S. officials deny.

Based largely on the surprise testimony of the secret spies, the dissidents were given sentences of up to 28 years for allegedly conspiring with the United States against Cuba. Orrio and the others testified that those on trial were on the payroll of the U.S. government, a claim Roca called groundless.

"It angers me; this kind of dirty work always angers me," Roca said. "But this is the kind of thing we have to get used to if we are dissidents. I try to do as Christ did: Forgive them, and ask God to forgive them."

The extent of the secret spy network uncloaked at the trials was shocking even to Cubans such as Roca, who are accustomed to the tactics of their government. Like the former Soviet Union -- Cuba's political, social and economic inspiration -- Cuba is a place where the government keeps tight control on its citizens.

Every neighborhood has a Communist Party group to keep an eye on local activities. A shadowy network of government spies is an assumed part of the totalitarian state. Roca and other dissidents said everyone knew the Cuban government had spies among them, but they were surprised to discover that they included some of the dissidents' most prominent members.

Among those who testified were Nestor Baguer, the president of Cuba's independent journalists association, and Aleida de las Mercedes Godinez, the longtime assistant to well-known economist Marta Beatriz Roque.

"The opposition is finished; it has ended. It will never lift its head again," Godinez, also known as "Agent Vilma," said in an interview Monday with the Associated Press. Based on the testimony of Godinez, a confidante who had Roque's e-mail passwords and access to all her files, Roque was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Godinez, in the interview, said she felt no remorse for turning on someone she worked with for many years. "Marta Beatriz was an objective of my mission," she said. "I could never be friends with a counterrevolutionary."

Baguer, 81, a fixture on the Havana scene with his ever-present black beret, testified in court that the independent journalists on trial were paid by officials at the U.S. Interests Section, the de facto U.S. embassy in Havana. "The majority of the journalists are mercenaries that spend their time slandering Cuba," Baguer said.

U.S. officials maintain that they provide radios, newspapers and Internet access to Cuban journalists and others as part of a democracy outreach program. The U.S. Agency for International Development Cuba program has given more than $20 million to U.S. groups working with the Cuban opposition since 1996 to help bring about a peaceful transition to democracy.

In an interview with Juventud Rebelde, an official Cuban newspaper, Baguer, known as "Agent Octavio," said he began working for the Cuban security police in 1960. He said his years as an undercover government agent were difficult because he was not allowed to tell even his family about his true work.

"There's nothing more difficult than having to write or say something that doesn't express your real feelings," he said. "To lie to your friends, who turned their heads when passing next to you, and to the traitors, who sell their homeland for a meal, is something very complex."

One of the dissidents convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison largely on Baguer's testimony was Raul Rivero, 57, one of Cuba's best-known poets and journalists. In an interview today with the Mexican newspaper El Universal, Baguer said he had known Rivero since he was a child and had been close friends with his mother. "I consider him a friend and I am very sad, but he deserved it because he chose the road of treason," Baguer said.

Another high-profile government agent who testified at the trials was Odilia Collazo, known as "Agent Tania," who had been one of Cuba's leading human rights activists. In an interview with Juventud Rebelde, she said that her father also had been an undercover agent.

The article said that in 1990, she was approached by government agents and asked to infiltrate the human rights community. She became president of a leading human rights group by 1994.

She told the newspaper that she regularly provided U.S. diplomats with information about human rights abuses in Cuba. "I was so useful to them, I was like their human rights secretary," she said. She claimed to have been deeply involved in writing the Cuba section of the U.S. State Department's annual human rights report. A U.S. official today said Collazo was "someone we talked to regularly" but said that she was exaggerating her role.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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