by Diana Barahona – La Republica
Aleida Godínez worked for the Cuban intelligence services as an undercover agent from 1991 until 2003, when she became a star witness at the trials of 75 individuals arrested for working on behalf of the United States as dissidents. A prominent dissident herself, Godínez spent years insinuating herself into the world of the hired opposition, proving herself a loyal and capable employee of the U.S. Interests Section and the CIA in Havana.
From her humble beginnings as a human rights activist in her native Ciego de Ávila, Godínez went on to become an independent journalist, and independent librarian, founder of the Cuban Christian Democratic Party, a leader of two independent labor organizations, the right hand of Martha Beatriz Roque, a trusted spy of a CIA officer and a close friend of Frank Calzón, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. All of the titles and organizations were fictitious, and all followed the orders of the US Interests Section.
In her capacity as celebrity dissident Godínez was a guest on Radio Martí, filing 102 reports about supposed human rights violations between 1992 and 1993. She met with diplomats and delegations from several countries, and recieved copious amounts of money, gifts and free meals. She was tasked with spying for the United States, and carried the required information, gathered by her Cuban handlers, to her American handlers at the USIS.
Through the years, there were but two things that motivated the dissidents: money and visas to the United States. The visa business was a two-edged sword, however; even though the prospect of getting a visa drew people to the movement, they were soon bound for Miami. The dissident payroll was like the workforce at a fast-food restaurant, which meant that the USIS was constantly training new employees. Godínez herself certified a great many applicants. In her interview for Los Disidentes she illustrated the high turnover:
I had 11 people in the delegation of the Cuban Christian Democratic Movement. Out of those, eight were trying to leave the country and, as a matter of fact, they are out of Cuba at this time. Of the other three, I later learned that one was an agent of ours. The same thing was happening with the other movements. The one that had a few more members was the Cuban Human Rights Committee, with some 15 or 20. All of them left the country in those years. (p. 10).
Godínez is a jovial, outgoing woman with a voice that carries. It isn’t hard to imagine her as a counter-revolutionary – not work for the shy and timid. She bragged about being responsible for the Clinton administration beginning to send large sums of money to Cuban dissidents in 1995. The way she tells the story, she was present at a meeting between dissidents and Ann Patterson, Clinton’s undersecretary for Caribbean affairs. When Patterson asked, “What is needed to overthrow Castro’s revolution?” none of the others said anything, so Godínez spoke up. “Well, look,” she said, “when Napoleon was making the war, someone asked him what he needed to win it. He answered that he needed only three things: money, money and more money, and that is what we need as well: money, because if there is no money or resources, nothing can be done.” Soon after that, Clinton met at the White House with Frank Calzón and gave him $500,000.
But the truth is that the sums were only large for the Cuban economy; the lion’s share of the millions of dollars budgeted for Cuba stays in Washington and Miami, as a 2008 report by the Cuban American National Foundation admits.
Godínez made her first contact with the USIS on June 20, 1994. “When a political party is created [the Cuban Christian Democratic Party] that I founded with four others, I present the political party to the Interests Section,” she said. At the USIS she met with Christopher Sibila, who Godínez says made no bones about being a CIA official. Sibila introduced her to his boss, Charles O. Blaha, who approved giving her an unlimited pass to the building. There, she had access to phones, computers and fax machines. But it was the arrival two months later of Robin Diane Meyer that was a turning point in her career.
“Charles O. Blaha recommends to her that she interview me. And from that recommendation – which are very special recommendations because supposedly these people have studied you, they’ve characterized you and they know you – when Robin Diane Meyer arrives in Cuba she considers me practically one of them.”
Meyer had been given the mission of unifying the opposition, and gave herself the title of “godmother of the opposition.” She brought with her a how-to manual, titled Resource Guide for the Transiition in Cuba.” This guide was published by the Committee for the Transition in Cuba of the International Republican Institute, which was headed at the time (1996) by Jeb Bush. Other notable members were Frank Calzón, Pepe Cárdenas (director of the CANF), Ricardo Ofil, Ernesto Betancourt, Elliot Abrams, Lincoln Díaz-Balart, Jaime Fernández, Daniel Fisk, Adolfo Franco (head of USAID until the recent scandal) and Carlos Franco. “But one person who stood out for me the most who was a member of this committee was Porter Goss, who a few years later was the director of the CIA.”
Also on the committee were Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Sen. Connie Mack, Otto Reich, Roger Noriega – “a whole series of individuals who have a past that is closely linked to the secret services of the United States,” Godinez said.
In 1995, as part of a recent immigration agreement, Meyer was allowed to travel all over Cuba and she visited Godínez several times in Ciego de Ávila. “From then on she began to give me special treatment. Within that special treatment that she gives me, she suggests that I write to Frank Calzón. She says that there is a group of non-governmental organizations, foundations, that are eager to help the dissident movement in Cuba. And to that end she places in my hands the Resource Guide for the Transition in Cuba.” Godínez called the guide her bible, because she often consulted it to learn how to write and say the things her U.S. sponsors wanted to hear.
Godínez met with Meyer more than 100 times in the two years before her expulsion from Cuba in 1996. “This lady, a CIA officer, a very good friend of mine, was the one who put me in contact with Frank Calzón.”
The first executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, Calzón went on to be a director of Freedom House, a government-funded “democracy promotion” organization with a list of directors that has included prominent neocons such as Donald Rumsfeld, ex-CIA directors, mafia-linked labor leaders and journalists P.J. O’Rourke and Mara Liason.
During the 1990s Calzón was in the habit of sending emissaries to Cuba in the name of Freedom House, to pass out money and conduct espionage. One of his agents, David Norman Dorn, was arrested in August 1997 and confessed to spying on economic targets and contacting Cuban dissidents to deliver money, according to Los Disidentes (p. 24). This was an embarassment for Freedom House, so in October of that same year Calzón took his Freedom House staff and with Otto Reich’s support formed the Center for a Free Cuba, with $200 000 in private funds from expatriates, $400,000 from USAID and $15,000 from the NED. The CFC could also be called Calzón’s cash cow in light of the millions in grants it receives and the meager amounts that actually get to Cuba, and the fact that Calzón associate Felipe Sixto was found to have embezzled $500,000 in April this year.
Godinez said that in 1996 Meyer proposed writing a letter to Frank Calzón at Freedom House telling him what her needs were. “And I, very prudently as I go by the instructions of State Security, write the letter, and I ask him for medicine and literature about human rights; and then I give her the letter, and she tells me, ‘Let’s send it here at the Interests Section through the fax at the Interests Section.’
“She had already given me the number, the book we’re talking about. Frank Calzón was then the director of the Free Cuba program of Freedom House. He had recently received $500,000 from President Clinton to achieve the transition of Cuba – translated into Spanish, for the defeat of the revolution.
“I carried that letter to the Interests Section and the curious thing about it was that they didn’t send it. Instead, a few weeks later Frank Calzón calls me at home. My number is not listed in Havana. In other words, evidently there was a link between Robin Meyer and Frank Calzón.” Godinez’s first talk with Calzón marked the beginning of a long relationship. Asked how close their relationship was, Godínez said, “Very good. So good that I used to call him each Sunday at two in the afternoon at his home, every Sunday.”
“Frank Calzón would send me money twice a year – a lot of money.”
She picked up her last payment in March, 2003, right before the 75 dissidents were arrested. At the time, Roque’s group was holding a fake fast for a jailed member, during which they ate hearty soups and gave out visa certifications. Godínez went to the fast, picked up her money, and went out for lunch. The “fasters” were arrested later that day. “And I kept Frank’s money, of course.”
Godínez is the same agent who in 1999 met with New York City librarian Robert Kent, introduced to her as Robert Emmet. She says that Calzón couldn’t go to Cuba, so he sent Kent in his place. Kent had made prior trips on behalf of Calzón and Freedom House, but at time of his 1999 trip it is not clear which group was sponsoring him, since Freedom House now claims they never heard of him.
Kent arrived in Cuba on Feb. 22, 1999, and made contact with Godínez two days later, on Feb. 24. For security reasons she had a separate house in Havana for meetings. When Kent arrived at the house, she said, he brought a large duffle bag. In it were medications, toiletries, batteries, radios, watches, cameras and a Radio Shack 10-band shortwave radio so the two could keep in contact. Godínez says he gave her a Casio watch with a GPS, the shortwave radio and a cheap Orlando 35mm camera. He bought her some Kodak film.
What Calzón wanted was sensitive information, Godínez said. Kent asked her about petroleum deposits and about a state enterprise that charged tourists for medical services. “The enterprise was called Servimed,” she said. “They wanted to know precisely who the director was and what kinds of services they offered.”
Kent also gave Godínez the task of taking pictures of the security around the house of Carlos Lage Dávila, then president of the Council of Ministers. “He explained to me that the North American government thought that Carlos Lage could be Fidel Castro’s replacement,” she said.
“I had to take the photographs at the request of Frank Calzón,” she said. “Frank Calzón was the one who had sent Robert Kent to Cuba, he had financed the trip.
“Besides that, he had brought $500 from Calzón to give to me, but Kent felt so comfortable with me that instead of giving me $500 he gave me $700 to buy myself a motorbike,” she said.
Asked if this could have been a personal initiative on the part of Calzón, Godínez said she didn’t think so, since her initial contact with Calzón had been made through Robin Meyer. “Curiously, Robert Kent asks for the same sensitive information that Meyer was asking me for: petroleum deposits and Servimed.”
Asked if Kent, the founder of Friends of Cuban Libraries, ever visited a library, Godínez said no. “The Cuban libraries project began in October 1998, and four months later, Kent came to Cuba; but he didn’t bring any books,” she said. “There was only one independent library in Las Tunas, and Kent didn’t go to Las Tunas.” At this point Godínez took out a photo of the independent library she still keeps at her house as a memento of her days as a security agent. It is a small book case full of books and papers. She says that she took Kent around to different dissidents’ houses, where he would ask to use the bathroom and come back with money for them.
Godínez took the photographs she had been asked to take of Lage’s house, and they were seized from Kent at the José Martí International Airport.
Godínez, like other security agents posing as dissidents, paid a high personal price for her work. Both her mother and father were revolutionaries and she had to leave home and move to Havana in 1995 because of her counter-revolutionary activities. “This whole process has been hard for my family,” she said in 2003. As Godínez told it, her 80-year-old father learned the truth when he saw her interview on Mesa Redonda, and said to her siblings, “I have seen an angel turn into a devil, but a devil turn into an angel, never.”
“And he started to cry.”
Today Godínez is a journalist, and she is working on a book about her experiences as an double agent.
Diana Barahona recently earned a BA in journalism from California State University – Long Beach, where she was disruptive, disrespectful and had an agenda, according the chair of the journalism school. She is now studying sociology at California State University – Fullerton.