Ana Belen Montes: Anachronistic Spy for Cuba

Austrian actress Lotte Lenya, playing Soviet Colonel Rosa Klebb in the film “From Russia with Love” (1963), one of the most remembered villains of the Bond saga. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 15 January 2023 –The spy is defined by an ability to keep a secret. The secret configures everything else — temperament, friendships, love, fear, sex and loyalty. The accumulation of confidential information makes the spy a danger to both sides. The expiration date depends on how quickly the secret changes hands. The vertigo of such a life has to be addictive.

For several weeks I was obsessed with the way in which the spy Ana Belén Montes had been shaped by the secret. It was, above all, a communication problem. Montes started from resentment against her country and a bulletproof loyalty for Castro. We know that she had been transmitting data to Havana since the eighties and that she met every day with her contact, like a disciplined reporting machine.

Her appearance couldn’t be more mediocre: short hair, office worker’s dark circles and cheap suits. It’s revealing that Havana has celebrated her release with such reluctance after twenty years in prison. Only the back benches of the regime showed some enthusiasm in their propaganda.

The release of Ana Belén Montes reminds the world of things that Havana would prefer not to reveal. For example, the fact that Cuba’s espionage network is still in action, although its scope is modest and its methods are outdated. One sees Montes and knows that at the end of the line Castro is waiting, in suspense, holding the phone. Both figures — Mata Hari and the Kaiser — are dinosaurs, parodies, relics of the Cold War.

If Montes were a villain in a James Bond movie, she would not be the blonde Tatiana Romanova but the repulsive Rosa Klebb. Unappetizing, Sean Connery would have avoided seducing her. I find it easier to see her behind an old Macintosh, downloading the Pentagon files on a floppy disk, while nervously drinking coffee.

Twenty years after her capture, we still don’t know who Montes is. Was she in love with someone when she was handcuffed? Had she planned her retirement, did she get bored of playing? What was the last movie she saw as a free woman, what did she like to eat? What did she think of the situation on the Island — hunger, poverty, the Special Period — and the paranoid twilighted Castro of 2001?

The fundamental problem that Montes brings the discussion back to what is the ideology of the spy. No modern intelligence service is effective because of the political loyalty of its agents. Money, blackmail or coercion are less fragile than enthusiasm for a certain government. Montes, however, said she did not receive any remuneration for her services. She acted out of fidelity to an ideology, out of resentment toward her country, because of her strange bond with Castro. That is the most obvious mark of her anachronism.

Not even Bond — who worked for Queen and Country — could say so much. Alcohol, remorse and women are his territory. On the contrary, Montes’ homeland does not exist. It is not Puerto Rico, even if she has relatives there; nor the United States, whose government she does not support; nor Cuba, where it would be a hindrance to the diplomatic romance with Washington. She has no other region left but her guarded personal freedom and her memory.

There is another explanation for Montes, perhaps more credible than ideology. Lust for the secret. The accumulation, classification and possession of secrets. The exhaustion of a life dedicated to the flow of data, typical of a machine, of a superior intelligence. Her capture, at a time of maximum overload, was the system’s response to the virus.

When a spy is burned, the best thing that can be offered to her, after such a long time, is anonymity. Reality, always gray and ordinary, recently brought us back to an Ana Belén Montes with gray hair, crows feet and a benign smile. She doesn’t want to talk; she doesn’t want to know anything about her past. As if Havana whispered instructions to her again, as if she were still wearing Rosa Klebb’s costume with honor, she announced the spy’s first commandment to the press: “I as a person am irrelevant. I have no importance.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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