Goodbye Friend

Antonio Tang and Florentino Aspillaga (right) in South Florida in 1993. (Antonio Tang)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Antonio Tang Baez, Montreal | October 23, 2018 – “Au revoir, mon ami,” I said to the most wanted deserter of the Cuban intelligence services on the banks of the Seine, in the center of Paris. I left him to his fate, while he walked calmly during a campaign of denunciation in the French capital against Cuban espionage maneuvers.

Those were the final chapters of the Cold War, the first years of the 90s. The world was in transition and the ex-Major of the Ministry of the Interior Florentino Aspillaga Lombard was on the cusp of his work in neutralizing the Cuban special services. For my part, in full youth, I did not consider at that time that it was a risk to leave the most wanted man in Havana alone in the middle of Paris. “After all,” I thought, “the job of a spy-catcher is not the same as that of a chaperone.”

I got the news of the death of someone who was a great friend, Florentino. His sudden death made me look back with nostalgia to the times when we dreamed of a free homeland and we thought it was possible in the short run. Destiny had in store for us a wait that still continues, but I still see it thru the lens of the past, in San Juan Puerto Rico.

At that time we had information that Puerto Rican separatist groups had discovered his presence on the island and were preparing to carry out another attack against the well-known Cuban deserter, who had already been wounded on a previous occasion in London by an agent from Havana.

Former officers of Cuban Intelligence, Florentino Aspillaga (left) with Enrique García, in Montreal in 1992. (La Presse)

Aspillaga and I were there denouncing the Cuban interference in the independence referendum that was going to take place on that island. Once again I had to participate in the operation because my friend always required my presence despite my youth and complete ignorance of the art of espionage.

In the middle of the “evacuation” from San Juan to Miami, the bodyguards pushed us into the vehicles and insisted: “Get in the car and take the flight we have booked for you. You and your friend are in danger.” I remember my strong protest, because I still had two nights at the Casino Hotel where I was staying, arguing that no one was looking for me, but my arguments fell on deaf ears and I finished my last two days of the operation in a boring Holiday Inn in Miami.

Florentino always forgave my rookie mistakes. He never allowed many photographs. The distrust and paranoia of the intelligence officer always accompanied him. However, he was never annoyed with me for taking pictures. He had a heart and a human sensibility that surpassed the vicissitudes of his profession. Memories are so many and so scattered when a friend from youth is lost. Together we fight for a better Cuba. Today his death surprises me and I can only say with pain: Goodbye, friend.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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