The Cuban 'Aldrich Ames'
Aloof suspect with high clearance was ideally positioned to do harm
Accused spy had access to details about dissidents in Cuba
February 19, 2000 - Fabiola Santiago - Miami Herald
To immigration insiders in Miami, Mariano Faget was an efficient and knowledgeable bureaucrat, proper and professional, somewhat dour and seldom friendly, even with fellow Cubans.
Many also knew his family had a sinister past in Cuba.
Although Faget, 54, never spoke of his personal life, his father's name was well-known: Mariano Faget Sr. had been one of Fulgencio Batista's best-known torturers, a "caza comunistas," a hunter of suspected communists who ran Batista's Office of Anti-Communist Repression, known as BRAC.
The unmasking of Faget Jr. -- the Immigration and Naturalization Service's highest-ranking Cuban-born official -- as an alleged spy for Fidel Castro's government is nothing short of shocking.
"That a Cuban spy is arrested in Miami shouldn't surprise anyone, but the son of Faget? The word on the street is that when Faget [Sr.] came from Cuba, he brought with him all the files on Cuban communists and gave them to the Americans," said Siro del Castillo, a longtime Cuban refugee advocate.
In his book Diary of the Cuban Revolution, writer Carlos Franqui describes Faget Sr. as "an old hunting dog ... who had worked with the FBI in the United States" and "a technician of torture" whose tactics dated back to the Gerardo Machado regime in the 1930s.
Details are sketchy about how the Fagets made it into exile after Batista fled. In a 1996 El Nuevo Herald story about a plan to shorten INS lines, Faget said he and his father had also stood in line in 1960 to claim political asylum. On Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, father and son took the oath of U.S. citizenship.
Both the father and his son, a teenager when the family left Cuba, were employed by the INS to help handle the heavy Cuban refugee workload. A Herald story in 1979 revealed that Faget Jr. had granted a permanent visa to Esteban Ventura, a hated and feared Batista police official believed to have participated in political murders, without the INS checking into Ventura's background.
"I didn't discuss politics with my father," Faget said then of Ventura's association with his father, who died of a heart attack in 1972.
In his 34 years with the INS, Faget Jr. was involved in the handling of practically every Cuban immigration issue -- granting residency under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, evaluating petitions for political asylum, assisting in chaotic situations like the Mariel boatlift.
He had secret security clearance -- a fact that had immigration lawyers fielding calls Friday from Cuban clients concerned about the possibly sensitive information that Faget could have given to the Cuban government. The INS said it is reviewing all cases and files on which Faget worked, a massive undertaking.
"Whenever there was a Cuban issue, he was involved," said immigration lawyer Leopoldo Ochoa, who handled the controversial citizenship case of trumpeter-defector Arturo Sandoval.
Lawyers are concerned on two fronts -- the secret information Faget could have delivered to the Cuban government and the Cuban agents he could have helped plant in South Florida to monitor the Cuban exile community.
"He had parole power," Ochoa said. "If Cuba had wanted to plant somebody, he could have fixed all his papers and just get him through with no fuss."
Lawyer Wilfredo Allen, who last saw Faget about a case last week, said Faget had access to the specific information contained in petitions for political asylum: names, dates and details of incidents relating to subversive activities and acts of persecution in Cuba.
ACCESS TO DETAILS
As an example, he gave the case of a low-level dissident who was a liaison with journalists working for Agence France-Presse and the Spanish news agency EFE in Havana. In her application, the woman had to detail everything she and the journalists did. Cuba has sometimes expelled journalists for no apparent reason and has heavily cracked down against dissidents recently.
"I'm most worried about low-level dissidents," Allen said. "It's shocking that a guy with that kind of information would be playing for the other side."
But he added: "To me, he has always been a gentleman, a good source when I have asked for advice on immigration cases. And when we talked about politics, he always gave me the impression of being a staunch anti-Castro individual, a righteous and proper individual."
"If you were to ask me what his politics are, I would have said he's a Reagan Republican," Ochoa said. "With me he was always very short and curt, a very circumspect type of person. I would see him in the hall and want to talk to him and he never really wanted to go into things much."
Del Castillo, who dealt with Faget during the Mariel boatlift, said he was the kind of immigration officer "who didn't fool around and try to trick you."
"If he had to say no, he would say, `It can't be done.' If it could be done, he would work with you to solve the problem," Del Castillo said.
And people knew not to approach him with the often casual approach Cubans sometimes use with each other or to talk with him about personal issues.
This much is known about Faget from public records: He was born July 2, 1945. He lives with his wife, Pitty Maria, 52, and 76-year-old Juana Pedraza Jimenez in a white, two-story house at 10056 SW 117th Ct. in a cul-de-sac in the Kendall subdivision of Amaretto. Faget is not listed as the owner in 1998 property records. He also does not appear in the voter rolls. He drives a 1999 Chrysler he bought around Christmas 1998.
Faget has two adult children and many relatives who packed the Miami courtroom where he appeared Friday. All declined to comment.
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