CUBA

Former FBI informant now living posh lifestyle in Cuba

 

Gilberto Abascal’s return to the island revived allegations that he worked with both Cuban intelligence and the United States.

jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

Two years ago, Miami FBI informant Gilberto Abascal was the key prosecution witness in the trial of militant Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles. In 2006, he was the main informant in the weapons conviction of Posada supporter Santiago Alvarez.

Today, Abascal is back in Cuba, building a house with a swimming pool — a rare privilege on the communist-run island — driving expensive rental cars and offering a reward equivalent of two years’ average salary for information about whoever burglarized his home, according to several of his neighbors.

“He came back from Miami and is living in his family’s farm” in the village of La Julia, about 15 miles south of Havana, said a democracy advocate who lives in the nearby town of Surgidero de Batabanó and knows Abascal personally.

Abascal’s return to Cuba reinforced long-running allegations, dismissed by U.S. prosecutors, that he served as an informant for both Cuban intelligence and the FBI in targeting Posada, Alvarez and other exiles in Miami.

“This inferentially validates the conclusion that this was an individual who had a collaborative relationship with Cuban security . . . and casts a shadow on the FBI for its dealings with this guy,” said Arturo V. Hernandez, Posada’s defense attorney.

Abascal returned home from Miami more than one year ago, and has been busy improving and adding to his family’s farm, said the neighbors in Batabanó and La Julia, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation by Cuban State Security agents.

In the money now

Nicknamed “El Cano,” the pudgy, 48-year-old Abascal has bought a tractor for his family’s farm, is building a home with a pool for himself on a dirt street in La Julia, and often rents late-model cars from a government-run agency in Batabanó, where prices start at $500 per week, the neighbors said.

A sign posted outside his La Julia home last weekend offered a 10,000-peso reward — about $400, in an island where the official average monthly salary stands at 470 pesos — for information on whoever burglarized his home. Photos taken by one of the neighbors showed what was described as a security camera over his front door.

One neighbor called him “a known security agent,” and another said his family’s farm is “protected” by security officials in civilian clothes who discreetly monitor passersby.

Abascal has told acquaintances in Batabanó and La Julia that he cannot return to Miami, but gave no reasons, and travels often to Mexico and other countries to buy clothes that he then sells on the island, the neighbors told el Nuevo Herald by phone.

He could not be reached in La Julia for comment for this story, but steadily denied that he was a Cuban intelligence agent throughout the Posada and Alvarez cases. “I have never had anything to do with the Cuban government in my life,” he declared in 2006.

Abascal arrived in Miami on a small boat in 1999, and later that year was intercepted by the Coast Guard as he and a married couple headed to Cuba aboard another boat — carrying photos of a paramilitary training camp in South Florida run buy the anti-Castro group Alpha 66.

“It was highly unlikely that the three adults were Cuban agents . . . [but] they may have been, or could have been, planning to use the photographs to ‘ingratiate themselves’ with authorities in Cuba,” U.S. agents wrote in a report on the interception submitted to court during the Alvarez case.

An FBI informant

By 2001, Abascal was living in Hialeah and acting as a confidential informant for the FBI, according to court documents. The FBI and U.S. immigration officials spent almost $80,000 for his housing, food and “services,” the documents showed. The FBI declined to comment for this story.

Alvarez, a wealthy Miami real estate developer, said he met Abascal in 2002 or 2003 as part of secret contacts with Cuban men who identified themselves as officers in the island’s armed forces and opponents of the Castro government.

The “officers” were real, Alvarez said, but he always knew that Abascal was a Cuban infiltrator.

“He always asked too much. He tried to get into everything,” Alvarez said. “And when something seems too good to be true, it usually is.”

Abascal nevertheless was hired as a handyman at some of Alvarez’s properties, and turned up with Alvarez in Panama in 2004 to voice their support for Posada and three other exiles on trial on charges of plotting to assassinate then-Cuban ruler Fidel Castro.

He also volunteered often as a deckhand on Alvarez’s converted shrimper, the Santrina, and testified that he was aboard when it was used to smuggle Posada from Isla Mujeres in Mexico to Miami in March 2005, after Posada and the others were pardoned on the Panama charges.

Wanted by Cuba and Venezuela on separate terrorism charges, Posada later told U.S. immigration officials that he arrived across the U.S. land border with Mexico. U.S. prosecutors charged the CIA-trained explosives expert with 11 counts of perjury.

As the FBI investigated Alvarez’s role in the Posada arrival, the developer ordered Abascal and another of his handymen, Osvaldo Mitat, to move a cache of illegal weapons to a new hiding spot. Abascal made one call to a Miami woman believed to be his Cuban intelligence handler, then called the FBI, according to the court records.

Facing Abascal’s testimony, Alvarez and Mitat pleaded guilty to the weapons charge, and served 30 months in prison. Unidentified friends later surrendered about 60 other illegal weapons as part of the deal with prosecutors.

Abascal also was the key prosecution witness in Posada’s 2011 trial in El Paso, Texas, which saw U.S. federal prosecutors deny attorney Hernandez’s claims that the witness was a Cuban intelligence agent and was lying about Posada’s arrival on U.S. soil.

‘Like a novel’

Hernandez’s argument “reads like a John Grisham novel,’ ” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerome Teresinski objected during the trial. “’It’s fiction. He wants to put Cuba on trial. He wants to put Fidel Castro on trial. He wants to put Mr. Abascal on trial.”

A jury found Posada not guilty of perjury about how he entered the country and his role in nine bombings of Cuban tourist spots in 1997. Abascal then disappeared from the public eye — until word filtered to Miami that he was back in Cuba.

Still unclear is whether Abascal was sent to South Florida by Cuban intelligence — like the five spies convicted in 2001 and sentenced to lengthy prison terms — or ran into economic problems here and decided to sell his services to Havana and the FBI.

Court documents filed in the Alvarez and Posada cases showed Abascal wanted the FBI’s money and its help in obtaining U.S. citizenship and retaining disability payments for a workplace injury, although he had violated income-tax and other regulations.

“Abascal’s sole motivation was pure, unadulterated greed,” said Chris Simmons, a retired Pentagon counter-intelligence expert on Cuba who reviewed some of the documents on Abascal’s background.

But Simmons added that he has no doubt Abascal was “an agent of Cuban intelligence” prior to his arrival in Miami, and was “trained and targeted” against Alvarez, Posada, Mitat and other exiles.

“Havana’s ability to [also] run Abascal as an FBI informant is reminiscent of its past successes,” he added, like Juan Pablo Roque, a Havana spy and FBI informant who played a key role in Cuba’s shoot-down of two Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996 that left four dead.

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
This is the raft on which 16 Cubans sailed from Cuba to Alligator Reef Light off Upper Matecumbe Key this week.

    THE KEYS

    Cuban migrants found suffering from dehydration off the Keys

    Sixteen Cuban migrants were intercepted off the Upper Keys on Wednesday afternoon, and seven of them needed medical attention after suffering from extreme dehydration.

  •  
Sixteen migrants are found crammed in this tiny boat around Alligator Lighthouse, which is about four miles offshore of Islamorada in the FLorida Keys.

    IMMIGRATION

    More than a dozen Cuban migrants rescued at sea in Keys; several taken to hospital

    A small blue homemade boat with a blue-and-white sail was discovered floating near Alligator Reef Lighthouse, about four miles offshore of Islamorada, on Wednesday. Crammed inside the motorless vessel were 16 Cuban migrants lying down, suffering from dehydration, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

  •  
Elsa Lopez looks at her clothes and shoes she wore when she left Cuba with her parents at the age of two at the time. Her items are among several donated by Exiles on display at the VIP opening and presentation of the The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom, at the Freedom Tower. The exhibit is a pictorial account of the struggles that the Cuban exile community has endured since Fidel Castro's rise to power, and the successes they have achieved in the United States, organized and curated by the Miami Dade College and The Miami Herald, on Wednesday September 10, 2014.

    MIAMI

    Exhibition chronicles Cuban exiles story

    More than 1,000 people crammed into the Freedom Tower Wednesday night for a peek at an exhibition that honors one of the city’s oldest buildings – and captures the tales of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who fled the island and made Miami their new home.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category