Rafael Villaverde

Rafael Villaverde

Rafael Villaverde, the son of a priest, was born in Cuba. He had a sister and two brothers, Jorge and Raoul. An opponent of Fidel Castro he fled to the United States and took part in the Bay of Pigs operation. Villaverde and many of his comrades were captured. In May 1961 Castro proposed an exchange of the surviving members of the assault team. On December 21 1962 Castro and James B. Donovan, a U.S. lawyer signed an agreement to exchange the 1,113 prisoners for $53 million U.S. dollars in food and medicine, the money being raised by private donations. On December 29, 1962 President John F. Kennedy met with the returning brigade at Palm Beach, Florida.

Soon after arriving back in the United States, Villaverde joined Operation 40. One member, Frank Sturgis, claimed "this assassination group (Operation 40) would upon orders, naturally, assassinate either members of the military or the political parties of the foreign country that you were going to infiltrate, and if necessary some of your own members who were suspected of being foreign agents... We were concentrating strictly in Cuba at that particular time."

Other anti-Castro Cubans who became members of Operation 40 included Antonio Veciana, Luis Posada, Orlando Bosch, Rafael Quintero, Roland Masferrer, Eladio del Valle, Guillermo Novo, Rafael Villaverde, Carlos Bringuier, Eugenio Martinez, Antonio Cuesta, Hermino Diaz Garcia, Barry Seal, Felix Rodriguez, Ricardo Morales Navarrete, Juan Manuel Salvat, Isidro Borjas, Virgilio Paz, Jose Dionisio Suarez, Felipe Rivero, Gaspar Jimenez Escobedo, Nazario Sargent, Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz, Jose Basulto, and Paulino Sierra. It has been argued that members of Operation 40, including Rafael Villaverde might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

In 1966 Ted Shackley was placed in charge of the CIA secret war in Laos. He appointed Thomas G. Clines as his deputy. He also took Rafael Villaverde, Carl E. Jenkins, David Sanchez Morales, Rafael Quintero, Felix I. Rodriguez and Edwin Wilson with him to Laos.

According to Joel Bainerman (Crimes of a President) it was at this point that Shackley and his "Secret Team" became involved in the drug trade. They did this via General Vang Pao, the leader of the anti-communist forces in Laos. Vang Pao was a major figure in the opium trade in Laos. To help him Shackley used his CIA officials and assets to sabotage the competitors. Eventually Vang Pao had a monopoly over the heroin trade in Laos. In 1967 Shackley and Clines helped Vang Pao to obtain financial backing to form his own airline, Zieng Khouang Air Transport Company, to transport opium and heroin between Long Tieng and Vientiane.

Joseph Trento (Prelude to Terror) claimed that in the 1970s Villaverde worked as a CIA contract agent. Edwin Wilson added that Villaverde became a "hit man for the CIA in South America working under cover of Gulf & Western Company."

In 1976 Rafael Quintero was recruited by CIA agent, Edwin Wilson, to kill a Libyan dissident in Egypt. Quintero selected Rafael Villaverde and his brother Raoul, to carry out the killing. Four days before the assassination of Orlando Letelier, the Villaverde brothers returned to the United States. On 21st September, the day that Letelier was killed, Wilson phoned Quintero in Miami to call of the operation.

Rafael Villaverde and his brother Jorge ran the Little Havana Activities Center. They were both arrested and charged with being part of a drug smuggling ring dubbed ''Operation Tick-Talks". The Villaverde brothers and 51 others were accused of running a multimillion-dollar cocaine smuggling operation. According to Peter Dale Scott (Cocaine Politics) on 16th December, 1980, Cuban-American intelligence operative Ricardo Morales Navarrete told a Florida prosecutor that he had become an informer in Operation Tick-Talks, a Miami-based investigation that implicated Frank Castro and other Bay of Pigs veterans in a conspiracy to import cocaine from the new military rulers of Bolivia. In an interview with Jim Hougan, CIA agent Frank Terpil claimed that Ted Shackley, Thomas G. Clines and Richard Secord were also involved in this drug operation.

Rafael Villaverde vanished on a fishing trip after bonding out after his arrest in 1982. According to Edward Jay Epstein, Villaverde's "speedboat exploded off the coast of Florida". His body has never been found.

Ricardo Morales Navarrete was also killed in 1982 during a bar brawl in Key Biscayne. As a result, all charges concerning Operation Tick-Talks were dropped.

Rafael Villaverde brother Jorge, was murdered in June, 2002.

Primary Sources

(1) Ricardo Morales Navarrete was interviewed by Douglas L. Williams in Miami on 5th April, 1982.

Q.Let me ask you this: At this time, Mr. Morales, and it's a convenient spot at which to do it - you have come to be aware; have you not, sir, of certain incidents that have recently taken place involving people who are defendants or who were defendants in this case; specifically, one Rafael Villaverde? Have you recently come be aware of a situation that occurred involving Rafael Villaverde?

A. Yes, of course.

Q. Have you heard that Mr. Villaverde is lost and apparently presumed dead at sea as a result of boating accident?

A. It's all over the papers...

Q. Have you spoken directly with any of the defendants in this case or any relatives of any of the defendants in this case or any relatives of people who, up until the time of their death, had been defendants in this case about or concerning Rafael Villaverde and his apparent loss at sea? Have you spoken to anyone about that? Do you understand the question, Ricky?

A. It's so lengthy that, as I pointed out to you before, you break it down, and I will give you yes or no.

Q. Let me break it down. Have you spoken with any of the defendants in this case any time since Friday morning, let's say, 9:00 o'clock on April the 2nd about or in any way concerning Rafael Villaverde's disappearance and death?

A. Negative.

Q. Have you spoken with any of the defendants in this case at all since the fact of Mr. Villaverde's apparent disappearance and death was first discovered or made know about the fact or anything related to it?

A. Negative...

Q. Mr. Morales, how long have you known any of the Villaverde brothers?

A. The whole family?

Q. Yes.

A. We were from the same neighborhood.

Q. In Cuba, in Havana?

A. Uh huh, Havana.

Q. Which members of the Villaverde family have you known personally over the years since living near them in Cuba?

A. Raul, Rafael, Jorge, and I believe that I was aware that there was a sister.

Q. But, in any event, you have known them all, the ones whom you have mentioned, since your childhood in Havana?

A. El Vedado.

Q. So, you've known them all since childhood there?

A. Yes

Q. Were you friendly with any of the Villaverde brothers during childhood, or did you just have an acquaintanceship with them?

A. Sort of acquaintanceship.

Q. Has there ever been a time when you would describe your relationship with any one or more of the Villaverde family as being antagonistic or hostile?

A. Yes and no. It's the ups and down in life...

Q. Was there ever a time when you took some affirmative step or purposeful action toward harming or disadvantaging any member of the Villaverde family or trying to do something that will hurt, not necessarily physically, but hurt, in any way, hurt the interests of any member of the Villaverde family?

A. No.

(2) John Rothchild, The Informant, Harper's Magazine (January, 1982)

In December 1980, an important law-enforcement conference was held in a police car in the parking lot of Monty Trainer's dockside bar, and then moved to the parking lot at Zayre's, and formally reconvened at a room in the Holiday Inn on LeJeune Road. Crime watcher Ricardo Morales was telling two policemen, D.C. Diaz and Raul Martinez (neither to be confused with Raul Diaz), and later the assistant state attorney, Rina Cohan, that drugs were bought and sold out of Carlos Quesada's house at 1724 S.W. 16th Street. Can you imagine? Police should do something about Quesada, Morales said. He and his partners were flirting with heroin, which tested Morales's moral patience. "Heroin … goes against, you know, my own belief and religion, and, you know, I … flatly refuse to go along in this new kind of business."

Morales was ready to give a fifty-page deposition. But first he reminded prosecutor Cohan that "I was found not guilty by the jury, which you should be aware of," for earlier suspicious acts. All Morales wanted now was immunity for subsequent suspicious acts. In return, he would incriminate Quesada and many others. The same kind of immunity that Quesada got for incriminating Rudy Rodriguez back in 1979....

Morales's revelations were not shocking. D.C. Diaz was the man assigned to be Quesada's bodyguard after Morales arranged Quesada's flip. To stay close enough to Quesada to shield him, you had to drink with him, and D.C. Diaz had done that, both at Quesada's house and at the Mutiny Bar. In fact, on different nights during the summer of 1980, you could have found either D.C. Diaz or Raul Diaz or ex-prosecutor Jerry Sanford or a customs agent named Czukas sitting at the same table with Carlos Quesada and his new associates.

Chief among these associates was Rafael Villaverde, ex-CIA, a Bay of Pigs alumnus who was ransomed by President Kennedy for medicine and truck parts, a man who moved up from picking tomatoes to operating a $2 million antipoverty agency for the Latin elderly. Villaverde, weighing more than 200 pounds, knows the mayor, knows the police, knows everybody he ought to know in Miami. Villaverde's welfare agency has been called a front for terrorists, but Villaverde once said that if bombers and assassins did congregate among his elderly, it was only to apply for benefits in anticipation of their retirement.

Other frequenters of Quesada's table at the Mutiny were Villaverde's brother, Raul, and the two Condom brothers, who share an unfortunate name, a conviction for cocaine smuggling, and membership in the paramilitary 2506 brigade, a venerable anti-Castro group. Morales was often at the Mutiny, too. He had introduced Quesada to Sanford, and Quesada in turn introduced D.C. Diaz to the Condom brothers, who were brought into the group by the Villaverdes, who were themselves introduced to Quesada by Morales. For the Monkey, the Mutiny gatherings in that summer of 1980 were "This is your life."

Everybody knew what everybody else was up to. Policeman D.C. Diaz told me, "Quesada knew where we were coming from. And he would give us information about drugs, usually things we already knew; or else he would tell stories on his competition. We would visit his house, and if there was something going on that he didn't want us to see, he would come outside and talk. He even tried to bribe us with Rolex watches." For more than a year, police had viewed Quesada and partners with suspicion and at close range, and yet nothing had broken. Perhaps they were waiting for Morales to make a move.

But tensions surfaced occasionally. Jerry Sanford recalls one night at the Mutiny when "Morales kept saying that so-and-so killed the Chilean ambassador in Washington, and Villaverde kept saying he knew it was somebody else, and Morales stared throwing pats of butter at Villaverde. Every time he made a point, he hurled a pat. Villaverde tried to ignore this, and so did Quesada. They just sat there and pretended it wasn't happening."

By later October, relations had broken down - not between the suspects and the police, but among the suspects. The Godfather was on television again ("when The Godfather comes on … the drug people, they get steamed up somehow, and some people may have gotten killed because of that," Morales opines), and Morales didn't get an invitation to customs agent Czukas's birthday party, which upset him. In fact, Morales recalls, it was a lousy month. He claims to have spent several hours one evening fending off various hit men. He says he escaped by brandishing a dummy hand grenade. "I pulled the handle and said 'trick or treat' … so that was my Halloween."

So by the first week in December, Morales was sitting in the parking lot with the police, restructuring his alliances once again. One theory is that he had been kicked out of the Quesada organization and was retaliating. Jerry Sanford's theory is that the Condom brothers had proposed a legitimate stock deal to Quesada and that Morales mistakenly assumed that "stocks" meant heroin, since none of his friends read the Wall Street Journal. The Villaverde brothers, now indicted, said Morales first introduced them to Quesada and then created this drug investigation, in retaliation for something the Villaverdes did back in 1976. They thought they had a contract with the CIA to assassinate a European terrorist named Carlos the Jackal. When they discovered (such is life in the underworld) that the target was a Libyan dissident and the client was Colonel Qaddhafi, they patriotically backed out. Morales was also somehow involved, Villaverde has contended.

Once again, the law enforcement people went along with Morales. "We don't have the money to buy information, and so we have to work on favors," says Lt. Raul Diaz. "There are certain things you can do for some people and then they owe you a favor. That is the system. Sometimes, it breeds what looks like corruption." The state gave Morales his immunity and then used his testimony for wiretap applications, first on a suspected lesser distributor named Roberto Ortega and then on Quesada's phone and behind the wall clock in Quesada's living room. This was Operation Tick-Talks. Police listened to hundreds of hours of conversation through the spring of 1981, but then the clock fell off the wall and the bug was discovered, so they had to move in to arrest an assortment of schoolteachers, airline pilots, and accountants, plus the Villaverde brothers and the Condoms and Quesada, making forty-eight people in all. They have been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, although no drugs were seized.

Much ingenuity went into the Tick-Talks surveillance. Police detained the caretaker of the Quesada house on a minor traffic charge so that they could make a copy of the house key in his pocket, which gave them entry so they could install the wall bug. The way they came back to change the setting for daylight savings time was very clever. But letting Ricardo Morales chart the course of a criminal prosecution is bound to create a few problems...

It is now fall in Miami, and the heat had left the pavement. The only major character in any of the Morales episodes currently in prison is Orlando Bosch. He is still being held in Venezuela, even though he was acquitted there. Venezuela has a different system of justice. Rolando Otero is out on bond, and so is Carlos Quesada, and so are the Villaverdes. Rudy Rodriguez, the man they wanted to convict so badly that they flipped Morales and Quesada, spend about a year in jail awaiting the appeal because he couldn't make the bond of $1 million. Recently, however, the government changed its mind and agreed to let him use some property he owned as collateral on his bond, so Rodriguez is free again. Naturally, there is a rumor going around Miami about why the government let him out: Rodriguez has been flipped, and now he's an informant, too. The rumor doesn't say who is left to inform on.

(3) Edward Jay Epstein, Edwin Wilson: The CIA's Great Gatsby, Parade Magazine (18th September, 1983)

Within a year, three witnesses in an investigation died. Rafael Villaverde, a Cuban refugee, disappeared at sea after his speedboat exploded off the coast of Florida; Kevin Mulcahy, an electronics expert. was found dead in an isolated motel in the Shenandoah Valley-apparently a victim of exposure; and Waldo Dubberstein, an archaeologist and expert on the Middle East, died of a shotgun blast to his head-a presumed suicide.

All three had worked for the CIA and, in the mid 1970s. became involved in mysterious conspiracies plotted by a former CIA agent named Edwin P. Wilson. A series of investigations by various federal agencies, begun in 1976 led to Wilson's indictment in 1980 and disclosed the following pieces of a murderous puzzle.

Villaverde, who had served the CIA as a saboteur in Cuba, was recruited by Wilson as a hired gun and promised a million dollars for an assassination in Egypt. Mulcahy, a CIA specialist in secret communications technology. was hired to supervise the smuggling of electronic and military equipment. Dubberstein, an ex-CIA man whose subsequent work for the Pentagon included compiling the daily military intelligence summary for the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff - a position that gave him access to the ultra secret Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), the precise order of battle for nuclear war - was paid by Wilson to sell his country's secrets.

(4) David Green and Tere Figueras, Anti-Castro Activist Murdered, The Miami Herald (12th June, 2002)

Longtime anti-Castro activist Jorge Villaverde was convinced someone was trying to kill him. On Tuesday morning his hunch proved grimly correct.

Villaverde was gunned down as he took out the trash from his Redland house. He died with a 9mm pistol tucked into the back of his pants - a gun he never had time to draw.

''This was obviously an ambush,'' said Miami-Dade police Detective Lupo Jimenez. "That's what we're looking at.''

The member of a fiercely anti-Castro family, Villaverde spent years in Cuban political prisons before making it to the United States. His brother, Rafael, was a member of the ill-fated brigade that invaded Cuba's Bay of Pigs in 1961.

News of Villaverde's apparent execution drew some members of Miami's Cuban exile community to the crime scene. They stood in the drizzle on this rural lane, huddling in grim clusters as they speculated on his life and death.

''I knew him well,'' said Roberto Martín Pérez, whose wife is the prominent radio commentator Ninoska Pérez Castellón. "We spent 20 years in political prisons together (in Cuba). We engaged in strong anti-Communist activities.''

The murder occurred about 8 a.m., police said. Villaverde, 67, had just walked out through the electronic gate in front of his ranch-style compound in the 20400 block of Southwest 198 Avenue when he was hit with a hail of bullets.

A neighbor's housekeeper told police she watched it happen.

''She saw two guys in a white car,'' said Joseph Pratt, who employs the housekeeper. "The passenger tilted the seat back, and the driver leaned across and shot him.''

Villaverde's maintenance man was inside the gate when he heard four or five shots. He ran outside and found his boss lying on his back beside the trash can - under the wooden sign over his driveway carved with the words, "La Tranquilidad.''

''He had blood in his mouth,'' Armando Alonso said.

Those who knew Villaverde, who was retired, said he had been attacked a few times during the past month.

About 10 days ago, he was tending his horses behind his house - which sits on a 2.5-acre lot - when someone fired a burst of shots from beyond his property line.

''That time I heard the shots,'' neighbor Pratt said. "I ran over to see what happened... He told me they tried to kill him.''

Another neighbor recalled Villaverde saying two weeks ago that someone had hit him in the back of the head with a weight.

'He used to ride his horse on the street, and when I saw him, I said, 'I haven't seen you on your horse recently,' '' said Suzanne Miller. "He said someone had hit him in the head with a dumbbell. He had a big mark there.''

Villaverde's roots in Miami's anti-Castro world ran deep. He served decades in Cuban prisons, and at one time said he was a CIA operative trained as a "terrorist.''

He and brother Rafael - who once ran the Little Havana Activities Center - were indicted in the early 1980s in a notorious drug smuggling ring dubbed ''Operation Tick-Talks.'' They and 51 others were accused of running a multimillion-dollar cocaine smuggling operation.

Rafael Villaverde, known as ''the weather vane of anti-Castro activities,'' vanished on a fishing trip after bonding out after his arrest. He has never been found.

The intrigue following his disappearance was typical Miami: Rafael did not die, the rumors held, but instead fled to Martinique or even Cuba.

The case against him and his brother, Jorge, later disintegrated.

Named because Miami police planted a recording device inside a clock, a judge ruled that police had gathered evidence in the Tick-Talks investigation illegally.

It was not Jorge Villaverde's last brush with the law.

In 1995, federal prosecutors charged him and a man living in his house with possession of a machine gun and possession of unregistered silencers. He spent two years in prison.

The bust occurred after someone tipped police that Villaverde was stashing drugs at his house, said one attorney on the case.

Federal agents raided Villaverde's Redland ranch, but instead of drugs, they found a large cache of weapons.

''He had a ton of weapons,'' said Ricardo L. Sanchez, who represented the second defendant, Alberto Bayolo.

''Jorge had two reasons for the guns: He always believed he was being watched by pro-Castro forces; and he had the weapons because he was one day he was going to put together a revolution and liberate Cuba,'' the lawyer said. "That's how Jorge lived.''

In the wake of last week's vandalisms outside the headquarters of paramilitary group Alpha 66 and the Cuban American National Foundation - where assailants tossed ignited, gasoline-filled beer cans - Miami's exile community was awash in speculation about Villaverde's death.

Many felt Castro was ''settling scores.'' But few said that publicly.

''This was a true crime, an assassination,'' said Andrés Nazario Sargén, leader of Alpha 66, adding that Villaverde was not affiliated with his group.

"It could have been a neighbor he had problems with, or someone else, but there is the political question. It needs to be investigated.''