When Cuban exiles Lilian Rosa Morales and husband Manuel Ramirez were murdered in an execution-style shooting in Coral Gables shortly after midnight on Feb. 2, 1995, most news reports on the case focused on Morales.
After all, Morales, 25, was known as the host of a radio program on astrology and a flashy dresser who favored big hats in vivid colors. The reports noted that her recent New Year’s prediction that Fidel Castro would survive 1995 might have angered a listener.
Ramirez, 57, was mentioned in the reports only as her husband. They said he had died at Jackson Memorial Hospital soon after Morales was pronounced dead at the scene, around the corner from the WCMQ radio station on Ponce de Leon Boulevard.
Few people, in fact, knew at the time that Ramirez was a very important man. He had led the construction of Cuba’s top-security biological laboratories in the 1980s and was preparing to testify about the island’s bioweapons capabilities to the U.S. Congress when the couple was murdered, el Nuevo Herald has learned.
Ramirez also had directed the construction of some of Cuban ruler Fidel Castro’s offices and several military bunkers, and had received a U.S. visa under a semi-secret “national interest” program for top island defectors managed by exiles in Miami.
A former Cuban government official has now told the newspaper that the killer was a petty Havana thief living in Miami who was ordered by Havana officials, perhaps Castro himself, to murder Ramirez for allegedly stealing $2 million from the government.
The killer was nicknamed “Indio” and was rewarded afterward with permission to traffic narcotics from the island to South Florida, said the former government official, who asked to remain anonymous because of fear of retaliation.
No one was ever charged with the murders. The former official’s tale could not be confirmed independently, but some of his key assertions matched details of the case. The Miami-Dade Police Department declined to comment because the case remains active.
Role of Ramirez
Ramirez was clearly the star manager of Cuba’s key construction projects in the 1980s, including the Russian Embassy, the Convention Palace and eavesdropping-proof offices for Castro, which he listed in a nine-page résumé written shortly after he arrived in Miami in 1991.
But his key project was the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in western Havana, a complex of a dozen buildings and more than 100 individual laboratories, Ramirez wrote in the résumé, obtained by el Nuevo Herald.
Ramirez wrote that he had a good relationship with Castro because he headed the Havana branch of UNECA, Cuba’s top state construction firm, and Castro visited the CIGB project four or five times per week to discuss its progress.
A friend now in Miami confirmed that Ramirez was known to Castro. “Manolito managed to reach a high level of communication and acceptance with el Comandante,” the friend said. He and others interviewed for this story asked for anonymity to speak frankly.
The résumé adds that Ramirez and Castro eventually had “a couple of somewhat disagreeable arguments” that got him banished in 1986 to a UNECA project in Czechoslovakia. He did not explain the reasons for the clashes.
Return to Cuba
The engineer returned to Cuba in 1990, and later was invited by a Russian friend to visit Moscow. Ramirez passed the word to a brother in Hialeah that he wanted to defect with his second wife, Morales. The brother declined to comment for this story.
The brother asked for help from Horacio García, a member of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) who ran the hush-hush U.S. “national interest” visa program out of his personal office to keep a distance from CANF.
The U.S. government had promised 200 such visas for top defectors, like diplomats, who had to be first vetted by U.S. officials, García said. About 100 such visas were eventually issued, including two for Ramirez and Morales.
The couple flew from Moscow to Spain, and from there to the United States on Jan. 6, 1991. Ramirez was then flown to Washington for two weeks of intensive debriefings by Pentagon officials, according to a knowledgeable exile in Miami.
After their, return to Miami, the couple seemed to do well building new lives in exile. By 1995, they owned three properties, heavily mortgaged but valued at $660,000. He worked for a home construction company, and they owned the Futuro astrology magazine and had registered two parapsychology-related businesses.
Her résumé says Morales graduated from the Exact Sciences Institute in Cuba and studied communications electronics in Ukraine. She boasted in Miami that she studied theology in Ukraine, metaphysics in Austria and parapsychology in Czechoslovakia.
WCMQ did not pay Morales for her programs. But she used them to publicize her astrology work under the professional name of Liliam Rosa Morad, said radio and TV talk show host Tomas García Fuste, at the time news director of the radio station.
In early 1995, a group of exiles persuaded Bob Menendez, a Cuban American from New Jersey then in the U.S. House of Representatives and now in the Senate, to arrange a congressional hearing on Cuba’s bioweapons capabilities. Ramirez was to be one of three Cubans to testify at the hearing, one of the exiles said.
A four-page report by Ramirez, written in preparation for the hearing, detailing the top security labs he built at CIGB, known as P-3 and P-4 level labs, said they were made entirely of stainless steel, with special welding and filters to ensure nothing dangerous escaped into the atmosphere.
The report offered no evidence that Cuba had manufactured any biological weapons, but said the island had the facilities and know-how to develop them for either sale to others or threaten or attack other countries.
“Given Fidel Castro’s . . . war-like attitude, his intransigence, his arrogance and his craze for power, it is possible to reach the conclusion that he is capable of producing a holocaust,” Ramirez wrote in the report, obtained by el Nuevo Herald.
In 2002, John Bolton, then U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, publicly asserted that Cuba had the capability to produce bioweapons. The CIA later circulated a more cautiously worded assessment.
About two weeks after Menendez agreed to arrange the hearing, Ramirez and Morales were gunned down in what clearly appeared to be a targeted assassination. There was no sign of an attempted robbery or domestic dispute, police said at the time.
Morales had just finished her Spanish-language radio program on astrology, A Traves del Pensamiento, weekdays from 11 p.m. to midnight, and walked out of WCMQ by a side entrance on Santillane Avenue near the corner with Ponce.
One neighbor told reporters he heard six or seven shots. Another reported seeing a shadowy figure hop into a parked car and speed off. Ramirez and Morales were found in their blue 1992 Mercury Cougar, parked on Santillane. They left an 18-month-old baby.
Friends said there was initial speculation that the murders might have been drug-related because the couple was friendly with a notorious Miami drug trafficker. García Fuste said there had been rumors that Ramirez was targeted because “that man had too much information.”
Brian Latell, a retired CIA analyst and author of the book Castro’s Secrets, said there have been a number of known Cuban government attempts to assassinate defectors and others, especially people who angered Castro in some way.
“Fidel operated during all his years in power as Cuba’s supreme spymaster. He called the shots in every important case. And defectors who damaged Cuba always became his cases,” Latell said.
The former Cuban government official said he obtained information about the Ramirez and Morales killings through three separate contacts with relatives and friends as well as acquaintances within the island’s intelligence agencies.
Cuba’s main spy agency, the Intelligence Directorate of the Interior Ministry, tasked two female collaborators living in Hialeah with the job of monitoring Ramirez and Morales soon after the couple arrived in South Florida in 1991, the former official told el Nuevo Herald.
One of the women regularly reported to Havana on the activities of anti-Castro exiles, he added, such as the CANF leadership and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and his family.
In 1997, he obtained evidence that the killer was a Cuban man in his 30s known as “Indio” because of his dark skin and straight hair, the former official added. “Indio” had been jailed in Cuba for petty theft and went to South Florida during the Mariel boatlift of 1980.
Cuban officials asked the man to kill Ramirez in retaliation for stealing the $2 million, he said over a string of lengthy interviews. The former official provided el Nuevo Herald with other details but asked that they not be published to protect his identity.
He did not know exactly who in Havana ordered the assassination, the former official added, but he surmised it might it well have been Castro himself, often known on the island as El Uno — the Number One.
After the murders, the defector said, a Cuban government official told the killer, “You made El Uno very happy.”