The Mi­ami Water­gate bur­glar whom Rea­gan par­doned

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Local & State - BY SHANE O’SUL­LI­VAN

In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the Mueller re­port, po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors and his­to­ri­ans have drawn nu­mer­ous par­al­lels with Water­gate and the im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings against Pres­i­dent Richard M. Nixon. A month af­ter Nixon’s res­ig­na­tion in Au­gust 1974, Pres­i­dent Gerald Ford par­doned him. But his­tory has for­got­ten the only other man granted a pres­i­den­tial par­don for his role in the Water­gate crimes, and why the par­don was given.

Water­gate bur­glar Rolando Eu­ge­nio Martínez was a vet­eran of more than 300 in­fil­tra­tion mis­sions into Cuba for the CIA dur­ing the se­cret war on Fidel Castro in the early 1960s. He was also the only Water­gate bur­glar still on the agency’s pay­roll at the time of the break-in.

He was re­cruited for the Water­gate op­er­a­tion by E. Howard Hunt, the for­mer CIA li­ai­son to the Cuban “gov­ern­ment in ex­ile” in Mi­ami be­fore the Bay of Pigs in­va­sion. By the sum­mer of 1971, Hunt had re­tired from the agency and taken up a new job as a se­cu­rity con­sul­tant for the Nixon White House.

In­censed by the pub­li­ca­tion of the Pen­tagon Pa­pers, Nixon or­dered a smear cam­paign against whistle­blower Daniel Ells­berg, so Hunt re­cruited Martínez and two other Cubans to break into the of­fice of Ells­berg’s psy­chi­a­trist, Lewis Field­ing, in Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia. Their goal? To find em­bar­rass­ing se­crets that could de­stroy Ells­berg’s rep­u­ta­tion in the press. Hunt sub­se­quently em­ployed an ex­panded Cuban team to break into the Water­gate of­fices of the Demo­cratic

Na­tional Com­mit­tee in May and June 1972.

Amid ru­mors that Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ge­orge McGovern had fi­nan­cial sup­port from Cuba, Hunt sent Martínez into DNC head­quar­ters to find and pho­to­graph doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion be­tween Democrats and Castro. Martínez be­lieved the Ells­berg and Water­gate break-ins were “na­tional se­cu­rity” op­er­a­tions be­ing run through Hunt at the White House with the bless­ing of the CIA. Af­ter all, the agency was still pay­ing Martínez a re­tainer of a hun­dred dol­lars a month to re­port on Cubans of in­tel­li­gence in­ter­est ar­riv­ing in Mi­ami, and he had re­peat­edly told his case of­fi­cer about his con­tact with Hunt.

Af­ter serv­ing 15 months in jail for his part in the break-in, Martínez re­turned to Mi­ami on pa­role in 1974 and was warned by for­mer CIA col­leagues that Cuban in­tel­li­gence might try to re­cruit him. Three years later, in May 1977, the Cuban pitch came. Think­ing Martínez was em­bit­tered by his Water­gate ex­pe­ri­ence, the Cuban in­tel­li­gence ser­vice (Direc­cion Gen­eral de In­teligen­cia — DGI) re­quested a meet­ing in Kingston, Ja­maica.

Martínez, how­ever, re­mained loyal to the U.S. gov­ern­ment and re­ported the ap­proach to the CIA through agency vet­eran Felix Ro­driguez. He was told to con­tact the FBI, who ap­proved a dou­ble-agent mis­sion to in­fil­trate Cuban in­tel­li­gence. Af­ter meet­ings in Mex­ico and Ja­maica, Martínez sailed to Cuba on Castro’s Blue­bird yacht and met In­te­rior Min­is­ter José Abrantes. He was de­briefed for sev­eral days in Ha­vana and given a sum of money. Ac­cord­ing to Ro­driguez, the Cubans wanted Martínez to use his heroic sta­tus in the Cuban ex­ile com­mu­nity in Mi­ami to sup­port the joint ef­forts of Cuban ex­ile banker Bernardo Benes and the new Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion to reestab­lish diplo­matic re­la­tions with Cuba.

In­stead, Martínez shared the Cuban plans with the FBI, se­cur­ing him­self a pres­i­den­tial par­don from Ron­ald Rea­gan in 1983. Rea­gan de­nied sim­i­lar re­quests from Hunt and Nixon’s deputy cam­paign chief, Jeb Ma­gruder, caus­ing many to sus­pect that Martínez’s par­don was a po­lit­i­cal move in­tended to strengthen Rea­gan’s pop­u­lar­ity with Cuban vot­ers in Mi­ami ahead of his 1984 re­elec­tion cam­paign.

Only those clos­est to Martínez in in­tel­li­gence cir­cles knew the role his se­cret mis­sion to Cuba had played in Rea­gan’s de­ci­sion to grant cle­mency. And Martínez’s mis­sion had an in­trigu­ing sub­plot that threat­ened the CIA’s very ex­is­tence at the time. The agency ini­tially sus­pected that the Cuban pitch to Martínez was part of a broader pro­pa­ganda cam­paign to im­pli­cate the CIA in the as­sas­si­na­tion of Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy and fur­ther dam­age its morale and rep­u­ta­tion af­ter a se­ries of scan­dals.

Kennedy had ini­ti­ated his own back-chan­nel diplo­macy with Castro in the fi­nal months of his life, and his death was be­ing rein­ves­ti­gated by the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on As­sas­si­na­tions at the time of the Cuban ap­proach to Martí- nez. One of the com­mit­tee’s key wit­nesses was Cuban ex­ile leader An­to­nio Ve­ciana, who told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he and his CIA case of­fi­cer, Maurice Bishop, had met Lee Har­vey Oswald in Dal­las two months be­fore the Kennedy as­sas­si­na­tion.

In April 1977, one month be­fore ap­proach­ing Martínez, Cuban in­tel­li­gence had met an­other FBI dou­ble agent in Mex­ico City: Felix Za­bala Mas, Ve­ciana’s close friend and busi­ness part­ner. To­gether, the Cuban ex­iles had pre­vi­ously mounted two un­suc­cess­ful as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts against Castro - with a bazooka in Ha­vana in 1961 and with a gun hid­den in a cam­era in Chile 10 years later. Cuban in­tel­li­gence thought they had “turned” Za­bala Mas against his friend. They hoped that their for­mer en­emy could give them the in­side track on Ve­ciana’s con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony, Castro as­sas­si­na­tion plots and cur­rent anti-Castro ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity.

De­clas­si­fied FBI and CIA doc­u­ments re­veal, how­ever, that the Cubans had been de­ceived by an elab­o­rate plot, de­signed by Ve­ciana to sab­o­tage Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter’s push to re­store re­la­tions with Cuba. Ve­ciana scripted Za­bala’s ap­proach to Cuban in­tel­li­gence and what he di­vulged in sub­se­quent meet­ings, aim­ing to in­cite Castro to pub­licly rail against the CIA as­sas­si­na­tion plots, dam­age re­la­tions with the United

States and es­tab­lish Ve­ciana’s name as a CIA agent. Castro re­fused to take the bait, how­ever, and while ef­forts at de­tente floun­dered in 1977, Castro lived to see the restora­tion of diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween the United States and Cuba in 2015.

Ve­ciana sur­vived a Cuban as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt in 1979, and both he and Martínez lived to see the death of Castro. Martínez is now 96 and rues that his covert op­er­a­tions failed to free Cuba and re­sulted in the “loss of two pres­i­dents” — the as­sas­si­na­tion of Kennedy, which he be­lieves was an act of re­venge by Castro, and the res­ig­na­tion of Nixon.

A ge­nial char­ac­ter, Martínez re­fuses to dis­cuss any­thing that didn’t “come out” dur­ing his CIA-ap­proved Water­gate tes­ti­mony, like the key to a DNC sec­re­tary’s desk drawer that he tried to hide from ar­rest­ing of­fi­cers in the early hours of June 17,

1972. When I asked him re­cently why he had the key that night, he told me with a chuckle, “I don’t re­mem­ber and I don’t want to re­mem­ber. I want to be con­sis­tent with what I said be­fore. I don’t want it to come out, I’m sorry.” His undi­min­ished loy­alty to the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity has re­paid the trust shown in him by Rea­gan 35 years ago. The file de­tail­ing who rec­om­mended his par­don re­mains clas­si­fied, and be­yond what he told Water­gate pros­e­cu­tors, his se­crets re­main sealed.

O’Sul­li­van is a doc­u­men­tary film­maker, se­nior lec­turer in film­mak­ing at Kingston Univer­sity, Lon­don. and au­thor of the new book, “Dirty Tricks: Nixon, Water­gate and the CIA.”


In this Aug. 9, 1974, file photo, Richard Nixon says good­bye to mem­bers of his staff out­side the White House in Wash­ing­ton as he boards a he­li­copter for An­drews Air Force Base af­ter re­sign­ing the pres­i­dency in Wash­ing­ton. Nixon's grand jury tes­ti­mony about the Water­gate scan­dal that de­stroyed his pres­i­dency is fi­nally com­ing to light.

HECTOR GABINO El Nuevo her­ald

Water­gate bur­glar Rolando Martinez.

HECTOR GABINO El Nuevo Her­ald

Cuban ex­ile leader An­to­nio Ve­ciana.

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