HAVANA – When convicted spy Rolando Sarraff Trujillo failed to call home from prison, his parents went to the jail to see if their son had fallen ill. Officials told the elderly couple not to worry, saying only that he was better off.
A former intelligence official in the United States Thursday publicly identified their son as the unnamed spy traded for three Cuban intelligence agents jailed in the United States, one who U.S. President Barack Obama hailed as Washington’s most valuable assets.
But neither Cuban nor American officials have confirmed that Sarraff was spirited off the island and his parents have not heard from their son since he supposedly was freed.
“They are saying his name out there,” his mother, Odesa Trujillo, told The Associated Press on Thursday at her home in Havana. “I don’t care where he is, just that he’s in good health.”
Chris Simmons, the former chief of a Cuban counterintelligence unit for the U.S Defence Intelligence Agency, identified Sarraff as a cryptologist in Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence working on “agent communications,” the codes used by Cuban spies abroad to communicate with their handlers in Havana.
“When you’ve got someone doing agent communications, they hold the keys to the kingdom, because they are gonna know where are the flaws in your processes,” Simmons told AP.
Before his downfall, Sarraff helped the U.S. crack the “Wasp Network,” in Florida, a Cuban spy ring that included members of the Cuban Five, the last three of whom were released in exchange for the Cuban spy. Cuba also released 53 other prisoners as well as American Alan Gross.
The Cuban Five were convicted in 2001 of being unregistered foreign agents, and three also were found guilty of espionage conspiracy for failed efforts to obtain military secrets from the U.S. Southern Command headquarters.
Sarraff’s parents say they know nothing about that.
His father, also Rolando Sarraff, is a retired lieutenant colonel in Cuba’s armed forces and a former journalist with the state news agency Prensa Latina. He and his wife claimed ignorance of the details of their son’s work, and only knew that he had been convicted of being a CIA spy nearly 20 years ago.
The father said he considers himself a revolutionary and raised his children to be the same. “But my son is my son, he could be a thief or whatever and I am never going to abandon him. I’ll never turn my back on him.”
On Wednesday, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced that the two countries would be restoring diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of enmity. Gross was released as part of that deal after serving five years in jail in Cuba for bringing in sensitive communications equipment without permission as part of a cover USAID program.
The younger Sarraff, now 51, was arrested by state security agents in 1995. A sister, Vilma Sarraff, said the family first learned of his arrest when three Cuban generals showed up at their house to break the news.
Vilma Sarraff said that at family dinners her brother would question the communist government and “the lack of democracy and freedom in the country,” but she never thought of it as being out of the ordinary.
She and another sister, Katia, moved to Spain shortly after their brother’s arrest and spent years trying to raise awareness about his case among Spanish politicians. Both sisters spoke regularly with him over the years and Vilma said she visited her brother in Cuba 12 years ago. That was the last time she saw him.
“My brother is a journalist, painter and writer. He is a very refined man,” she said.
The father and mother, who live in the upscale Havana neighbourhood of Playa, would visit their son in prison every week. For the past years, he has been held at Villa Marista, a maximum security facility at the edge of Havana. Sarraff would also call his parents in the afternoons, but failed to do so on Tuesday.
When they hadn’t heard from him by Wednesday, they went to see officials at Villa Marista.
“We were desperate when they told us at Villa Marista that they took him out at dawn,” the mother said.
But then officials gave them reason for hope. The father says they told him not to worry, that it was “for the better.”
Since then, they’ve been trying to find out where he is.
“We have been everywhere and they tell us they have no information,” the father said.