Monday, June 01, 2009

Cuban defector 'Paco' helped CIA

Posted on Monday, 06.01.09
Cuban defector 'Paco' helped CIA
As a boy, he spun tales of intrigue for his friends. As a Cuban
defector, he lived them for the CIA.

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Francisco Carlos de Albear, a Cuban counterrevolutionary turned Cold War
CIA operative whose left-eye patch covered a bullet wound -- and hinted
at his many adventures -- has died.

Albear, 85, was an air-traffic controller in his native Havana, an ideal
position for helping other anti-Castro actors escape after 1959.

Albear defected to the United States in 1963 -- bringing a wealth of
knowledge about Cuba's aviation sector with him.

He lived in Miami and worked for two Central American airlines. On the
side, he debriefed other Cuban defectors at South Florida safe houses
guarded by fierce German shepherds.

Known as ''Paco,'' he married and divorced the same woman three times.
He spent much of his retirement at the South Miami ballet studio,
helping build sets and keep the books.

Albear died April 29 after suffering his second stroke in 18 months.
He'd been living for the past four years with Miranda Alvarez Brake of
Kendall, whose father, the late Frank Alvarez, was Albear's lifelong friend.

Alvarez Brake said Albear's airport job enabled him to make sure the
Alvarez family got out of Cuba in 1961, ''a month after the Bay of Pigs.
We left saying we were going on vacation. A month later, my father
hijacked his own cargo plane,'' with his friend's help. ``He landed in
Key West.''

Albear brought Alvarez to the CIA, which hired him to fly in Pakistan
and Africa.

Paco's son, Frank Albear, said his father couldn't undertake foreign
assignments after leaving Cuba because of his eye patch.

''He was too recognizable,'' said the son, a Jupiter attorney.

Frank Albear said his father was shot in the eye by a guard as he drove
past Havana's Czech embassy in 1962.

''I don't know what he was doing there, whether he was actually going to
the embassy or the embassy had anything to do with it,'' he said.

Whatever the case, Paco Albear took much of his history to the grave.

The night that Paco lost his eye, brother Dr. Gustavo Albear -- then an
internist -- rushed to the hospital.

''I saw his left frontal bone and the anterior part of the temporal bone
and some brain tissue,'' Gus Albear recalled.

``The left eye was blown out, too. I was expecting he would have a
change of character, but he didn't.''

From then on, he wore the patch.

'My kids and grandkids called him `Uncle Pirate,' '' Gus said.

Albear traced his ancestry to a Spaniard who settled in Cuba in the
1700s. One noteworthy ancestor was his great-grandfather, the
19th-Century engineer Francisco de Albear y Hernández de Lara, who
signature work is the Havana aqueduct.

His father, also Francisco, was an officer who quit the Cuban army after
President Gerardo Machado's ouster in 1933 and Fulgencio Batista's ascent.

''The tradition of the family was the army, but that door was closed for
us,'' said Gus Albear, now a retired anesthesiologist living in Tampa.


His brother had several talents, Gus said, among them painting -- which
he practiced by copying the pinups in Esquire magazine -- and storytelling.

''He always had too much imagination,'' Gus said.

He would spin tales of intrigue even as a boy.

''He tried to live it himself,'' Gus said.

During the interregnum between Batista's first and second governments,
Paco's father joined the secret police, and according to Gus and Frank,
was involved in a detail that apprehended the American mobster Charles
''Lucky'' Luciano.

''My father met him,'' Frank Albear said. ``Luciano gave him a $20 to
buy Lucky Strikes and insisted he keep the change.''

His father ''fell in love with aviation'' in his youth, said Frank. ``He
took advantage of an early 1950s United Nations program to teach
air-traffic control in Oklahoma City. After he graduated, he went back
to Havana and eventually became chief of air traffic control.''

He also co-owned a flight school in the capital.

In 1955, Albear married Elena Eguilior. Son Frank was born the following

Like many of his countrymen, Paco Albear initially supported Castro.

''There was no love lost between my father and Batista, and Fidel was
the hope and glory,'' Frank said. ``Then he showed his true colors. My
father started making contact with American intelligence.''

Sent to a 1963 aviation conference in Mexico City, Paco -- then an
airport administrator -- walked into the U.S. embassy and defected. U.S.
officials told him to divorce his wife so that she wouldn't be harassed
after he left the country first.

''It was a fake divorce,'' said Gus, who left Cuba in 1964.

Frank recalls being shuttled on and off a commercial plane twice and
being ''held in an interrogation room'' before he and his mother left
Cuban soil.

The family reunited in Miami, where Eguilior still lives. The Albears
remarried, divorced again, re-remarried, and divorced a final time.

Albear worked for Nicaragua's Lancia Airlines as a flight dispatcher at
Miami International Airport, then for TAN, the now-defunct Honduran airline.

But he regularly worked out of two safe houses: one in the Homestead
area -- where attack dogs patrolled at night -- the other off Miller Road.

'The place in Homestead was also a `listening post' -- aviation,
ship-to-ship,'' Frank said. ''He would listen. These were illegal
operations. . .Those guys were all making peanuts, but they believed. He
worked there till '73,'' when the CIA halted domestic spying.


Alvarez Brake, who teaches at the Miami Conservatory of Ballet, said
that Albear got involved with dance through her mother, who sat on the
board of directors of Ballet Concerto, a small South Miami company.

'She said to him, `Come along!' After that, he fell in love with ballet.
He helped as treasurer, stage builder, with recordings. He went with
them when they traveled.''

Because he'd been so good to her family, ''it was only fitting later on,
when he didn't want to be alone, that he came to my house,'' said
Alvarez Brake, who lives with her son.

She believes that Albear's last four years were among his happiest.

''He stayed home with my Labrador and the cats,'' smoking and reading.

``For me it was a blessing. . .We'd watch movies and talk. I'd take him
to the ballet, the opera.''

Albear's body was cremated. His last wish was to have his ashes buried
next to his father in Havana in a post-Castro Cuba.

``He was happy to have a country that would take him and he was a [U.S.]
citizen. But he loved Cuba.''

Francisco Carlos de Albear | Cuban defector 'Paco' helped CIA -
Obituaries - (1 June 2009)

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