No sign of release for the last Cuban spy in a US jail
Despite thaw in relations, Ana Belén Montes looks set to serve last nine years of quarter-century sentence
On February 28, in her cell at a maximum security prison in Fort Worth, Texas, Ana Belén Montes turned 60 years of age. Once regarded as one of the Pentagon’s top analysts and an expert on Cuba’s military, the so-called “Queen of Cuba” was arrested in 2001 when her 17-year career as Cuban spy was discovered and she was sentenced to 25 years in jail.
Despite the thaw in relations between Havana and Washington under Barack Obama, which saw three of the last Cuban spies returned home in 2014, Montes remains behind bars in a facility reserved for some of the most dangerous and mentally ill prisoners in the United States.
In 2016, a family member revealed that Montes had undergone surgery for breast cancer, although there has been no official confirmation of this.
Her release is currently scheduled for 2026, by which point she will be 69 years old.
Unlike the three prisoners released in 2014, the Cuban government has never officially campaigned for Montes’ freedom. In June 2016, Miami Spanish-language daily El Nuevo Herald reported that Cuban officials had asked after her during a meeting in the United States. A few months earlier, Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez had called for her release at a concert in Spain. The request was repeated a few days ago at one of his concerts in Puerto Rico. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, posted a report from Venezuela’s official news agency mentioning that a campaign for Montes’ freedom had been organized in Cuba.
Montes penetrated US intelligence deeper than any other Cuban agent
Writing in his blog on Montes’ birthday about her treatment by the regime, Cuban journalist Harold Cárdenas said: “The Cuban Foreign Ministry’s discretion is understandable. In contrast, the silence in the national media is shameful.”
There has been speculation that the United States and Cuba are negotiating Montes’ exchange for Assata Shakur, the Black Panther leader accused of shooting a police officer who managed to escape to Cuba in 1984, claiming political asylum. But a 2016 US State Department internal document rejects the option.
Montes is considered to be the Cuban agent who most deeply penetrated US intelligence. An analyst at the Pentagon, she was recruited by Havana in 1984, and after undergoing training, would report each night to her handlers via shortwave radio without ever having to make copies of documents, thanks to her remarkable memory.
She rose through the ranks from her initial position as a typist, garnering commendations along the way, one of which was presented by the then-head of the CIA. Born to Puerto Rican parents on a US army base in Germany and whose two siblings worked for the FBI, while her former boyfriend was a Pentagon official, Montes passed on top-secret information, such as the identity of four US spies in Cuba or US activities in Central America. She refused payment for her spying, telling the judge at her 2002 trial she acted out of “love” for Cuba, which she felt was being treated “cruelly” by the United States.
The Cuban government has never officially campaigned for Montes’ freedom
Former CIA analyst Brian Latell, who worked with Montes, remembers her as “bitter” and “prepared to risk her life for her love of Fidel Castro and his revolution.”
Piero Gleijeses, an expert in US foreign policy, was her teacher in the 1980s when Montes undertook a Master’s in International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He remembers her as a “brilliant” student regarded as “conservative” in the classroom. Montes visited him in a decade later, ostensibly to discuss a paper he had written, but in reality to scope him for information about Cuba. “I told her that if I had any confidential information I wouldn’t tell her, because I knew where she worked and I didn’t agree with US foreign policy.”
A year ago, in a letter to her family, Montes wrote from her cell: “There are certain things in life that are worth going to jail for. Or that are worth committing suicide for after doing them.”
English version by Nick Lyne.