Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cuban spy not a Mad Dog

Marion Albert Pruett, a.k.a. "Mad Dog"
Marion Pruett and I sat at a small table, facing each other. He was on Death Row for the 1981 killing of a convenience store clerk in Arkansas. Later he told police:
I pulled in and was going to get gas and I seen that there was a girl working there by herself and I said well hell, I think I'll just rob her and kill her so that's what I done.
I asked if he'd kill again. I remember him saying something like this:
Put it this way. If there were a gun on the table and you pissed me off, I'd blow your head off.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan
No wonder his nickname was "Mad Dog."
I interviewed Pruett for The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colo. Authorities accused him of killing at least four other people, including his wife.
I asked about his childhood. He told me he fell off the back steps of his house when he was a boy.
A Coke bottle he was holding broke and a shard of glass took out an eye. His life evidently went downhill from there.
Pruett blamed his troubles on drugs. He wanted me to believe there was some good inside him somewhere.
I wondered what his family thought.
Don't talk to my father, he warned.
But I couldn't do the story without talking to his family and relatives of people he killed. I wanted the full story, not just his side of it.
I got his father on the phone. He told me his son was a rotten human being.
Some 15 years later, on April 12, 1999, the state of Arkansas killed Mad Dog with a lethal injection
I wasn't sorry about that. He was scum, a selfish, simple-minded cold-blooded bastard who killed people to support a drug habit. And the world is better off without him.
Other stories I've done over the years have been less serious, like the one about the boa constrictor that popped out of a woman's toilet while she was on the seat.
Other stories are more complicated, and they're not all black and white, at least not to me.
Take the case of Juan Pablo Roque, the former spy. He killed no one. At least he didn't pull the trigger.
Roque, 57, was part of a Cuban espionage operation aimed at infiltrating exile groups in South Florida.
He was successful. He became a pilot for an exile group called Brothers to the Rescue. The FBI trusted him enough to use him as a paid informant.
He worked in an environment that is hostile to Cuba's socialist government. He returned to Cuba in 1996 just before Cuban MiGs blasted two Brothers to the Rescue planes out of the sky, killing four people.
Roque told me he didn't know the shoot-down was going to happen. He was just doing his job. But he was quickly demonized in South Florida. Many Cuban exiles really hate the guy. Just check out the more than 1,300 comments on my story, which ran in the Miami Herald and in El Nuevo Herald.
But unlike "Mad Dog" Pruett, Roque didn't try to limit who else I interviewed. He didn't try to tell me how to write the story.
And unlike Pruett, Roque was considered patriot, someone who defended his country from foreign interference.
On Tuesday, Roque sent me an email. His message was brief. The gist of it: My reporting was harsh and one-sided.
One of Roque's supporters hammered the same point in an email to me today:
Saying that your story could have been more balanced is a massive understatement.
I realize, in hindsight, that the story was one-sided. I quote Roque, then a range of people who despise him:
  • His ex-wife, Ana Margarita Martinez
  • Maggie Khuly, the sister of one of the pilots killed in the shoot-down
  • José Basulto, the head of the exile group Roque infiltrated
  • Matt Lawrence and Thomas Van Hare, the authors of "Betrayal: Clinton, Castro & The Cuban Five," a critical book about the shoot-down; and
  • Three people who left behind scathing comments after watching a stolen home video of Roque.
It was important to talk to the critics, especially Martinez and Khuly. But I didn't quote anyone who supports Roque. It's clear to me now that I didn't do enough to find people who have an alternative view of Roque.
I sent emails to several people who I thought were his supporters, but I never heard back from them.
That doesn't matter, of course.
What matters is what came out in print. And I'd agree with Roque that the story didn't tell the whole picture.
The story doesn't give the full context of a bitter U.S.-Cuba fight that's been raging now for more than a half century.
The late Orlando Bosch with Luis Posada Carriles
It doesn't explain that U.S. authorities have at times been tolerant of such figures as Luis Posada Carriles and the late Orlando Bosch, both of whom have been accused of planning or carrying out violent attacks against Cuba.
After the Roque interview was published, Roque said some people had the impression that he is preparing to swim to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo again, just like he did when he staged his defection in 1992. I don't know where that idea came from. It certainly isn't true.
Roque didn't like that I included in the story his desire to sell his house and his prized Rolex. I had intended to do a separate blog post about that. I decided later that the former spy's money troubles were an important part of the story. And I thought a blog post about it would preempt the story and make it impossible to market and sell.
I didn't mean for that to cause any embarrassment. Most retirees have it rough in Cuba. But critics have used Roque's economic straits to paint Cuba as they see fit.
All this shows me how some Cuba stories can get caught up in the maelstrom of negative press aimed at discrediting the Cuban government.
I didn't intend for my story to become a platform for bashing Roque, but that's what happened. And I told Roque I was sorry for that.
Another complaint Roque and his supporters have with my report is that I shared video of the interview with América TeVe, which they see as a vehemently anti-Castro outfit.
Roque said in his email that América TeVe did not broadcast the entire interview, which lasts about 49 minutes, so viewers could not hear what he said about such issues as the case of convicted spy Gerardo Hernández.
In the interest of fairness, I am posting audio of the entire on-the-record interview, here. That way, people can listen to it and come to their own conclusions.
Roque asked that I only videotape the first part of the interview. I am posting that, too, here.
No matter how controversial Roque is in South Florida, he deserves fair treatment and I didn't produce a balanced story.

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