Cuban Spy Taunts Opposition

Cuban undercover agent Aleida de Las Mercedes Godinez, 49, talks with the international press in an interview arranged by the Cuban government Monday, April 21, 2003, at the press center in Havana.
AP
An undercover agent credited with providing some of the most damaging evidence used during the recent trials of scores of dissidents declared this week that Cuba's opposition movement has been permanently disabled.

"The opposition is finished, it has ended, it will never lift its head again," Aleida de las Mercedes Godinez told The Associated Press Monday in the first of a series of interviews with the agents organized by the government for international media.

"The opposition will never flourish again — never!" said Godinez, who for nearly 10 years pretended to be a dissident and became closely involved with various opposition groups.

The few leading government opponents still free have said they will continue their activism to press for greater democracy in the communist-run island.

"The dissident movement will grow because the source of dissent is inside Cuba and because the socio-economic situation is getting more difficult," veteran rights activist Elizardo Sanchez said last week.

The opposition has acknowledged the severe damage caused to their movement by the undercover agents, particularly Godinez, who helped create the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society, an umbrella organization of dissident groups formed late last year.

Godinez, who had been working undercover since 1994, had access to extensive information about the many opposition groups in the assembly and the individual dissidents rounded up in March and tried weeks later.

Winning over the trust of the activists, Godinez used her position to spy on them. She said well-known dissident economist Marta Beatriz Roque even gave her the logon and password needed to access her e-mails.

Roque's relatives later said that Godinez's surprise testimony was key to her conviction after a one-day trial. Roque received a 20-year prison term.

Roque was among 75 dissidents convicted in quick trials and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 6 to 28 years on charges of being mercenaries working with U.S. diplomats to subvert Fidel Castro's government. The dissidents and American officials deny the charges.

"The presentation of these spies is an attempt to give credibility" to government's prosecution of the dissidents, Sanchez said at the time. He said the unmasking of the agents, "seeks to increase the paranoia and lack of confidence between the opposition and the exiles."

When asked whether she had become fond of the people she spied on or whether she felt bad when she testified against them, Godinez said: "Marta Beatriz (Roque) was an objective of my mission. I could never be friends with a counterrevolutionary."

The long sentences given the dissidents were fair "because of all that they had done against the nation over the years," she said.

Godinez said that Roque was handling as much as $5,000 a month from various groups in the United States funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The USAID Cuba program since 1996 has given more than $20 million to U.S. groups working with the opposition on the communist-run island to generate a peaceful transition to democracy.

Godinez said she received about $700 a month from U.S. organizations as head of the National Independent Workers Union of Cuba.

The bespectacled 49-year-old with a crown of short brown curls proudly showed off her new Pentium IV laptop computer — sent to her last year by a Cuban-American organization in Miami and personally delivered by a U.S. Interests Section official.

The agents' superiors evidently allowed them all to keep the money and equipment they received from U.S. groups.

Other agents interviewed in recent weeks by Cuba's state-controlled national press have told of being given shortwave radios, tape recorders, still and video cameras.

The daughter of a socialist activist jailed by Fulgencio Batista's government before Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, Godinez evidently was among the few experienced security agents selected to infiltrate the opposition.

Most infiltrators, including Dr. Pedro Luis Veliz Martinez, were members of long-trusted communist families who were recruited later to pose as dissidents.

Veliz, a 39-year-old internist, told the AP in a separate interview on Monday that he was first approached by an Interior Ministry official while doing late-night hospital rounds in 1996.

Veliz said he didn't hesitate before responding that he would be honored to go undercover to investigate as neighbor's activities with the opposition Liberal Party. The physician continued his regular job, spending much of his spare time gathering information about his next-door neighbor.

After gaining the confidence of government opponents — and the organizations in Miami that support them — Veliz in 1999 founded the Independent Medical College, a professional organization for dissident physicians.

Veliz said he eventually worked for Miami-based exile groups, which he said sent small amounts of money for reporting "supposed human rights violations."

The physician showed two cameras he one group sent him to record images meant to demonstrate the poor condition of the island's free health care system.

Later, Veliz's testimony helped convict several dissidents, including Liberal Party leader Osvaldo Alfonso, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

"I never had any doubts," Veliz said of his time undercover. "I am a revolutionary, I am Marxist-Leninist. I believe in communism."