For over twenty years, former spy Enrico Montoya worked in Cuba’s Dirección de Inteligencia (or DI, also known as G2, just to confuse the Belgians) intellience agency before fleeing the tiny island nation in 1998 and establishing residence in Orlando, where he now operates an unlicensed Disney collectible shop and online store.
With the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death two days ago, Mr. Montoya has come forward with a story that has been the island nations most closely guarded secret for over thirty years: Fidel Castro actually died in 1988, and was replaced with an audio-animatronic puppet stolen from The Magic Kingdom six years earlier.
In his small dusty shop Montoya, now in his mid seventies, displayed documents and old photos he’s kept secret for decades, and shared with our own Flying Car News Team for the first time.
In the most audacious and daring Cuban operation ever performed on US soil, Operación Abe el Honesto involved over 60 Cuban agents who had previously infiltrated the famed theme park as seasonal employees. Montoya was the chief agent in charge of the operation.
“Heh,” chuckled Montoya. “Most spy shops had moles. But we had mice! Is a good joke, no?”
The operation was first formulated as a political jab at the recently elected President Ronald Reagan, with his automated double being the original target for abduction. But at the last minute the plan was heavily modified.
“You see, El Jefe had his 56th birthday coming up in a few months, and it was always a healthy thing to get him a spectacular present, you know?” recalled Montoya. “We figured the Lincoln puppet already looked a bit like El Jefe, and we planned to present him with a “Hall of Cuban History” in Havana, with an audio-animatron of his own self as the main feature.”
At precisely 11:00 AM on Friday the 12th of February, 1982, just as the first morning show was ending, dozens of costumed charactors and cleaning crews converged on the Hall of Presidents display. “Closed for Maintenance” signs were placed at all the entrances as the audience of the show just ending were hastily escorted out. A team of Cuban tech specialists went in and disconnected the Abe Lincoln animated puppet, smuggling him out in a wheelchair, signature stovepipe hat replaced with a Mousketeer cap and a pair of oversized Pluto-themed sunglasses, and a Magic Kingdom bubble pipe stuck in presidential figure’s mouth.
“It was a bad day for Disney, that’s for sure. They managed to cover up the theft and keep it a secret all these years, but it was the first time they ever had over 50 employees walk off the job at the same time. That really screwed up their day,” Montoya recalled.
Next came getting the figure out of the country. “We redressed him in bermuda shorts and a hawaiian shirt, and added a beachcomber hat and aviator sunglasses. The beard was removable so that was easy. Then we put him in the back seat of a 1958 Impala convertible, and drove down I-95 to where our launch was moored, just north of Delray Beach. Anyone who asked we told them it was Hunter S. Thompson, still passed out from last night’s party.”
On returning to Cuba, a team of engineers and make-up artists went to work on the puppet, transforming Abe Lincoln into an exact replica of Fidel Castro and scratch building a control system to bring him to life. A small but lavish auditorium was built around the audio-animatron and for the next five years, Fidel and a select audience would attend a private show every August 12th on the dictator’s birthday. Due to his familiarity with the entire operation, Montoya was placed in charge of planning the yearly event.
But then in early 1988, disaster struck. At this point, the previously cheerful Montoya became quite somber.
“Most people don’t know this but El Jefe had a wild streak, you know? He liked to experiment, and ride out on the edge as they say. He’d started playing around with freebasing. Never that often and he never had a chance to get addicted.
But one night he was already full of rum, and he ordered his glass pipe and stuff brought in. And, well there was an accident. A horrible accident. What with his being a sloppy drunk, his beard was already soaked with rum. And even on a good day his beard was always pretty greasy. He was a real pig that way, you know? So anyways, his depth perception and aim were way off, the flame just barely touched his beard … poof. It was all over. Just like that.”
The news and embarrassing nature of Castro’s demise were a closely guarded state secret and remain so to this day. The Cuban government again tapped Montoya for a graceful solution.
“So we had this audio-animatron, with hundreds of El Jefe’s speeches already programmed in, right? And between you and me, any one of his speeches was pretty much like any other. So we brought in the engineers again, to make the puppet more … portable. We couldn’t suddenly have him only appearing at just that auditorium, you know? That would be a really stinky rat and would make for too many uncomfortable questions. And we brought back the original make-up team to make him look the same age as El Jefe when he died. Before that, the puppet looked like him in his thirties. He really liked that.”
There was also a human “body double” who stood in for photo opps, vacation shots and the like. “That was Ernesto. He had been janitor in a cigar factory when I found him. The spitting image of El Jefe. But that voice … ay-ay-ay! He sounded like Minnie Mouse on speed. Horrible, screeching voice he had.”
The ruse was not without it’s foibles during it’s twenty-eight year run. “We always had a problem getting parts,” recalls Montoya. “Sometimes we just had to make do. I remember we had to hack up windshield wiper armatures from a ’57 Buick to replace his eyebrow actuators. We were scraping things together like that all the time. And, his right arm would fall off from time to time. We never really got that completely fixed. Caused some embarrassing moments I can tell you! But we dealt with it, with a minimum number of executions.”
When asked why he thought the ruse has been abandoned now after so many years, Montoya’s answer was unequivocal. “That puppet finally broke down beyond repair. It’s only by God’s miracle that it lasted this long.”
As political positions and fortunes shifted in the Cuban government, Montoya began to find his previously secure position becoming untenable. “Raul always hated the program. Can you blame him? He was running the country for decades but could not get rid of the puppet. The people still loved El Jefe. And let’s face it, Raul has always been an annoying little pijo.”
Warned of his impending forced retirement and execution in 1998, Montoya used his network of spies to smuggle himself back to Florida disguised as a teenage maid, and established residence in Orlando. In a surprising move that neither Disney or Montoya will confirm, he appeared to have worked for Walt Disney Enterprises as a security consultant for several years before opening his small shop, unique in being the only shop selling unlicensed Disney collectibles that has escaped the wrath of Disney’s legal army.
“Yeah, let’s just say we leave each other alone,” Montoya said with a grin. “It’s been a good relationship. But now, el gato will be out of the bag anyways, I figure since I was in on this from the beginning, I deserve to cash in on it, you know?”