Eugenio Martínez, the last of the Watergate burglars, dies at 98

Eugenio Martínez, the last surviving Watergate burglar and the only person in the scandal other than Richard M. Nixon to be granted a presidential pardon, died Saturday in Minneola, Fla.

His death at his daughter’s house near Orlando was announced by Brigade 2506, a veteran group of colleagues of Mr. Martínez’s anti-communist Cuban exiles. Their abortive invasion of Cuba in the Gulf of Pigs in 1961 with the aim of overthrowing the government led by Fidel Castro was covertly supported by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Martínez was inextricably linked to the crime that triggered the president’s downfall. “I wanted to overthrow Castro, and unfortunately I overthrew the president who helped us, Richard Nixon,” Mr Martínez said in an interview with a Spanish newspaper. The world in 2009

Mr Martínez, who was said to have infiltrated Cuba hundreds of times on CIA missions to plant anti-Castro agents there or pull out vulnerable Cubans, was one of four operatives recruited in 1972 to break into Democratic National Headquarters. committee at the Watergate complex in Washington. He said he was hired by E. Howard Hunt, a White House operative and another Bay of Pigs veteran and CIA alumnus.

According to the report of Mr. Martínez, the burglars were ordered to seek evidence that Castro had subsidized the campaign of Nixon’s Democratic rival for re-election, Senator George S. McGovern.

Authorities caught the attention of a security guard who alerted police on July 17, 1972, during a second break-in at Watergate’s offices to repair problematic hearing aids they had installed a few weeks earlier.

In January 1973, four of the five burglars – members of so-called plumbers, an informal White House team assigned to eliminate information leaks – pleaded guilty to avoid revealing details of the intricate action. They were convicted of conspiracy, theft and wiretapping.

The others, also Cuban-born, were Bernard L. Barker, a former Miami real estate agent and CIA operative, who died in 2009; Virgilio González, a locksmith in Miami, who died in 2014; and Frank A. Sturgis, a wealthy soldier who died in 1993 (in 1971, four were involved in a burglary in the psychiatric service of psychiatrist Daniel Ellsberg in Los Angeles, a former Department of Defense analyst who discovered the Pentagon Newspaper for reporters.)

Each of the four served 15 months in prison. Mr. Hunt served approximately 31 months.

They were led by James W. McCord Jr., security coordinator for the Nixon campaign whose confession to the judge just before sentencing hastened the revelations of crimes and cover-ups of the White House that culminated in Nixon’s 1974 resignation. persecuting several presidential aides in the scandal, Mr. McCord was sentenced to one to five years to less than four months.

In 1977, four Cuba-born burglars accepted an out-of-court settlement of $ 50,000 from the Nixon campaign. They said they were seduced into believing they were acting with government sanctions on behalf of the White House administration, which was concerned about U.S. security and favored Cuban refugees.

In 1983, after Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter denied his pardon requests, Mr. Martínez – who turned out to be still in custody at the CIA at the time of the Watergate break-in – pardoned President Ronald Reagan .

Pardon, which was granted because Mr. Martínez, considered the least guilty of the accused, restored his right to vote. Despite the temptations, he was proud of one memory from Watergate – a golden lucky clover written in Spanish with the words “Good luck, Richard Nixon”.

Eugenio Rolando Martínez Careaga was born on July 7, 1922 in the present-day province of Artemis in western Cuba. Prior to Castro’s rise, he was expelled as a critic of dictator Fulgencio Batista. He later returned to Cuba, but left again in 1959 to oppose Castro’s newly established regime.

“My mother and father were not allowed to leave Cuba,” he wrote in a reminder published in Harper’s Magazine in 1974. “It would be easy for me to get them out. That was my specialty. But my bosses at the company – the CIA – said I could be caught and tortured, and if I talked, I could jeopardize other operations. So my mother and father died in Cuba. That’s how orders go. I follow orders. ”

He is survived by three daughters, Alicia Garcia Bernaza, Aeneid Lopez and Yolanda Toscano; son Danny Martínez; and four grandchildren.

After leaving prison, Mr. Martínez worked in real estate and as a car salesman. He became known as Musculito (or Little Muscles) because he continued to exercise at his South Beach apartment in Miami Beach in his 90s.

He said he consulted with director Oliver Stone about Mr. Stone’s 1995 film “Nixon.”

Mr. Martínez carried sad memories of his secret work. The Watergate episode, in the end, ended with the arrest of the group, seized in possession of incriminating money, gloves, locks, a walkie-talkie and a movie. And it all started awkwardly for him, after a tense personal drama. “I just got divorced that day,” Vanity Fair wrote in an article, “and I went from court to airport and from airport to Watergate.”

“I can’t help but experience the whole Watergate affair as a repeat of Bay of Pigs,” he added. “The invasion was a fiasco for the United States and a tragedy for the Cubans.”

In an interview for a never-before-released documentary, he recalled Billy Corben, the film’s director Facebook that Mr. Martínez lamented that his lifelong mission of liberating Cuba, especially by invading the Gulf of Pigs, had failed.

“For what? They all died for nothing. We lost Cuba,” he was quoted as saying, and then, Mr. Corben recalled, “suddenly his eyes brightened – as if he had just been hit by a sweet warm breeze from the coast of Varadero – and he he slyly grinned, “But we conquered Miami.”

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