PUERTO VIEJO, Limón — Monica Mercedes Pérez Jiménez has a life story with more twists and turns than a Cold War thriller, a Hollywood movie and a conspiracy buff’s fondest dream.
The 53-year-old New Yorker, now living in Puerto Viejo on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, is the daughter of the German spy Marita Lorenz, dubbed “the Mata Hari of the Caribbean,” who had an affair with Fidel Castro and then was recruited by the CIA to assassinate him.
When that failed, her next mission involved deposed Venezuelan dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, with whom she had another affair and became pregnant with Monica.
Lorenz’s CIA handler, Monica says, was none other than Watergate burglar Frank Sturgis, who had his own connections to Castro, and allegedly to the John F. Kennedy assassination.
As if all that weren’t enough, Monica’s story gets really strange when she says she tried to shoot Sturgis in New York in 1977 — when she was a 15-year-old girl — because she believed he was about to kill her mother.
The Tico Times interviewed Monica on the property she shares with her boyfriend in Puerto Viejo. A transcript of the conversation follows, edited for length, with material in [brackets] added for clarity and background.
TT: So where do we start this story? Can you tell me how your mom, coming from Germany, ended up becoming a spy for the CIA?
MMPJ: My grandfather, Heinrich Lorenz, was captain of the ocean liner The Bremen, which used to sail from Germany to Cuba and other places. My mother would sometimes stow away on the ship. She was a young, beautiful, 19-year-old girl. When the ship docked in Cuba, my grandfather was asleep, and my mom welcomed Fidel onto the boat. That’s how she met Fidel.
Why did Fidel come onto the boat?
Because the boat was in Cuban waters.
What year was this?
This was in ’59.
He came to power in ’59, right?
Yeah, he came to power in ’59. Fidel came onboard the ship and met my mother. They made an instant connection. Mom went back to New York and then she was called back by Fidel to work as an interpreter. She went back to Cuba, and that’s how her relationship started with Castro.
She became pregnant with Castro’s child and had a life-altering experience. She was drugged in her last trimester and woke up with no child. This brutality caused her to go back to the United States. And that is when the CIA recruited her.
Do you mean she had an abortion?
She would not choose to abort so late, as she was excited to be a mother. Castro would not have kept her around if he wanted to have the child aborted. I don’t know for sure. All I know is what my mother has told me. Castro was away when this happened to her — she was in her eighth month, and she was given something to drink, and she woke up and there was no child.
So the presumption is that Castro’s people forced an abortion?
When you’re in that late of a term, you can also be clinically induced and have the baby taken out of you still alive.
You mean you don’t know if the child was —
My mother believes the child was born alive. I cannot say for sure. Let’s remember this was before my time and this is Marita’s story to tell. Either way, she was a vulnerable young woman sent back to the United States sick and childless. That is when the CIA got ahold of her and started mind control.
Because the CIA found out that she had a connection to Castro.
Right. And they wanted to remove Castro.
So what do you mean ‘mind control’?
The means they used to brainwash my mother to go back to be an assassin were inhuman, to say the least. They used a combination of drugs, sleep deprivation and stimuli, consistent audio and visual stimuli. They would play recordings of baby cries, they would show her pictures of dismembered fetuses and they would say, “This is what Castro did to your baby. OK, now you need to go back and kill him.” Everything was in the name of God also … God wanted her to kill Castro. The U.S. government has stated that it had a program called MKUltra that used these kind of tactics to turn people into assassins.
So the CIA has now created the perfect assassin … or so they thought.
They gave her poison pills?
Yes, they gave her botulinum toxin pills to poison Castro.
To poison his food.
Or his drink or whatever. She couldn’t bring herself to do it. She loved him. She was 19, and Fidel was the very first person that she ever loved. But once you’ve been recruited by the CIA, you have to continue working for them.
Like the mob.
Right, like the mob. You’ve already been schooled, you’ve already been trained. The cross-ties between the mob and the CIA at that time were very strong — especially when we go into the Kennedy assassination, which is another thing my mom has ties to. I sat through the House Assassination Committee hearing while my mother testified.
I actually fell asleep during some of the testimony. I was a teenager and my mother didn’t want to leave me home, fearing my life would be in danger. I remember it was really boring, I had to sit there for hours and it was killing me — a big room and a bunch of talking heads.
So your mom met Lee Harvey Oswald?
There are pictures of her with Frank Sturgis and a man she called Ozzie. Frank Sturgis, the Watergate burglar, was my mother’s handler. But let me tell you how she got to the Kennedy thing.
My mom, after her failed Fidel mission, was still useful, but not on that level. So she was sent to my father [deposed Venezuelan President Marcos Pérez Jiménez] to pick up funds for the CIA. My father got thrown out of Venezuela for stealing money from the country and other crimes. They booted him and his family out and he went to the U.S.
Now at that particular point, he’s worth $600 million, one of the richest men in the world. So he was in Florida and had to pay off the government in order to stay in the U.S. So my mother was picking up the money. She didn’t know who my father was when she met him, because he went by “General” Marcos Pérez Jiménez. Nor did she know he was married. A little thing my father forgot to mention.
She said she figured out who my father was when she saw a coin, and the coin had my father’s face on it.
So now she meets this man, and as she likes to say, “with a bottle of nice fine Rhine wine,” she conceived me and became his amante, or mistress, in Miami. My father put her up in her own place while she was pregnant.
Mama wanted out of the CIA. She wanted a normal life. She thought that she couldn’t have children anymore, then she gets pregnant with me. She just wanted to nest and have her baby and this man was willing to give her a normal life. She was 22 and my father was in his late 40s.
When I was about 1 and a half, I lived a life of being a president’s daughter until he was extradited back to Venezuela to be imprisoned. Now my father had recognized me and that’s why I have my name. He had left me a large trust fund at that time.
What’s a ‘large’ trust fund?
In the hundreds of thousands…. I try not to think about it.
Why was he extradited? For being a dictator?
Yes. For stealing money from the Venezuelan people and other crimes, which is why he was thrown out. When Papa was extradited, his lawyer, David Walters [who was appointed U.S. envoy to the Vatican by President Carter in 1978] was in charge of my trust fund.
So once my father went to jail, we were left to the lions. There was a clause in my father’s trust fund that you couldn’t reveal the unknown donor, because he was married. The lawyer told my mother, “The only way you’re going to save this man is if you sue him for paternity. That will keep him in the country.”
I just read that online, that his extradition was delayed because of a paternity suit by your mom.
Marita loved my father and was desperately trying to help him from being extradited, so she followed David Walter’s advice. So, my mother sues him for paternity and now she’s in the public arena with his love child and my father is in jail in Venezuela.
Now, with the paternity suit comes the media. I have pictures where my mom is walking into court, beautiful blonde, and there are pictures of me with her. There’s a huge one in the spy museum in Germany. I am the spitting image of my father, spitting image. They used to call me “the little dictator” because I looked just like him. It was funny, but not to his wife. I can understand her anger but not her cruelty. I was just a baby.
So my mother goes to visit him in jail, but when she comes back there is an attempt on her life. She is also pregnant again, with my father’s second child, which she loses. The only people with motivation to remove us was Mrs. Pérez Jiménez and David Walters. She’s publicly embarrassed, and she’s the wife of a dictator.
She’s used to getting her way.
And she is a scorned woman. So what happens is, on the pretense that my mother’s going back to visit my father, which she did one time before that, we boarded a small airplane to see him again.
This was about 1964-ish?
Right. Mama tells me how we get on the airplane, and when we are up in the air she notices that they’re going towards the jungle, and the airplane lands in the middle of the Amazon jungle in Venezuela somewhere.
There’s just the pilot and us. It was an old emerald mine, that’s all Marita remembered. He landed on the strip and he took a gun out and he told her, “Get out. Get out and take your kid with you. And whatever you do, don’t smile — it’s considered a sign of aggression.” (The natives considered smiling aggressive because it shows teeth, and when animals show teeth it’s a sign of aggression.)
You were 1 and a half?
Yeah, 1 and a half, 2-ish. I do have one memory of this, which is interesting. I remember my mama being deathly afraid and me holding her leg, and I could feel the fear in her leg. And I remember all the green around me.
So they left us there, and a tribe of Indians came, and my mother tells me the story of how she got very sick with malaria and they took care of her. She said I had lederhosen on at the time. “They took the lederhosen off you, they stripped you,” she goes. “They sewed [the lederhosen] up and made a water bottle out of it and carried water with it. And they cut your hair, bowl cut, they put paint on you.”
They put paint on your face?
I was darker. I’m darker than my mom — remember, I’m half Latin, so they just took me in as one of their kids while my mom was lying deathly ill.
These are like Yanomami type of aboriginal people?
Yeah. We spent months in the jungles until my grandmother sent the Red Cross, which finally found us. My grandmother was also aware of my mother’s activities. She had started a search for us.
Before we got dropped in the jungles, my mother knew that my father’s wife was trying to have us eliminated, and she had contacted her CIA people again and said, “I need help.” They said, “Well, if you want help to keep you alive, keep you away from Mrs. Pérez Jiménez, you’re going to have to do a little something-something for that.” So that was when she had her Dallas trip. She was by accident in Dallas, to be a woman decoy with a group of men.
[Lorenz has said she met Kennedy’s reputed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, in the fall of 1963 in Miami, where she said Oswald, Sturgis and other men were studying Dallas street maps. Lorenz says she traveled with the men to Dallas carrying “rifles and scopes,” but left the day after they arrived. Kennedy was assassinated shortly afterward in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.]
Years later — now we’re going to jump from when I’m about 4 to when I’m about 15. Throughout those years, I grew up in New York City with my mom working for CIA, FBI, different agencies. It was me, my mom and my grandma until my brother Mark came along in ’69. My grandma would take me to ballet lessons, trying to give me a normal life. I loved her very much.
Then around the age of 15, which is ’76, ’77, my mother is subpoenaed to the House Assassination Committee for Kennedy. [The House Select Committee on Assassinations first convened in 1976 and reported in 1979 that Kennedy’s murder was probably the result of a conspiracy, disagreeing with the Warren Commission report that Oswald acted alone.]
Prior to that, her old handler, Frank Sturgis, started to come around more, was buddy-buddy. He had exposed himself in the media for whatever reason and he was taking my mom down with him. [Sturgis had been convicted in 1973 of the Watergate break-in and served 13 months in prison.]
This is how my life crosses from being a normal girl into being forced to be part of my mom’s cloak-and-dagger lifestyle.
First of all, I’m a physical product of one of her assignments. That’s the first thing. I’m now exposed as a tool to help a president not get extradited when I’m 1, 2 years old. Now I’m 15 years old, and Frank Sturgis is out there talking to Geraldo, talking to this one, talking to that one, exposes my mother as a CIA agent, exposes her and now she gets subpoenaed. Great! Now Frank doesn’t want my mom to say certain things because they implicate him and his buddies.
So my grandma — a very strong, lovely, beautiful woman, 60-something years old at the time — takes a little stumble and hurts her shoulder. They [Sturgis’ associates] take her to one of their doctors and my grandmother gets an injection. Now my grandmother is dying of an unknown paralysis. She also knows everything.
This is a message to my mother, Marita — we got one of your family, we’re going to get more of them unless you change your testimony, and make sure you say what you need to say. Now that would be perjury. Now you’ve got somebody threatening your life and wanting you to lie under oath.
It was Halloween of 1977, and Frank was threatening my mom to change her testimony, and my grandmother is dying in the other room. [Monica’s grandmother died shortly afterward.]
So he calls up very aggravated and he’s starting to indirectly threaten my mother, in terms I knew were threats. My mother tapes every single phone call. And when I hear this, I know what’s happening now. OK, you already got my grandma, now you’re going to take my mama too? No, you’re not.
So being raised with Marita Lorenz, I had in my basement a firing range, a shooting range, with BB guns and everything. From very early on I was raised knowing guns. Marita always made sure that I knew about weapons. I was taught to be able to defend myself with or without weapons. I would set listening devices in our apartment for parties where there were people of interest. I was being trained for that work. And I was privy to Mom’s little Minox cameras and numerous other spy techniques — Mommy was a spy. I just wanted to be a kid.
When she worked for the FBI, she used to pick out documents from the garbage, and my brother, we’d have to put them together like puzzles: “OK, who gets the first page together gets a prize.” [Monica’s brother Mark, eight years her junior, was born to Lorenz while married to an FBI agent named Louis Yurasits.] That’s how we were raised.
And so by the time I was 15, I knew how to fire a gun, I knew how to take a gun apart and put it back together, and I was a pretty decent shot.
So when I knew Frank was going to come talk to my mother about [how she was going to testify], I truly thought he was going to kill my mother.
So I waited outside for him with a gun because I was planning on shooting him as he walked into our apartment building.
Frank Sturgis. He was arrested for coercion, and when they arrested him going up to my mother’s house, he had weapons in his bag.
The only reason he got arrested was because, when I was downstairs waiting for him with a gun, somebody saw me, a little girl with my Catholic girl school uniform, brandishing a gun.
What kind of gun?
It was a .25 automatic. So, 15-year-old, .25 automatic, I think I’m going to take down a known CIA big shot, but I don’t take into consideration range, I don’t take into consideration shooting across an avenue. So a man was coming down the block, and I actually shot at him, but it was not Frank.
Did you miss him, I hope?
I did miss him. My intention was to, à la Mafia, try to take him out from below the waist, to try to stop him from walking into the building. I did not want to kill him, but I was prepared, if that were to happen.
Now there’s a man walking into the building to kill my mother and I ****ed up and didn’t hit him, so now I’m freaking out.
Now I see a cop car that’s all the way down at the end of the street and it’s blocking the street. And then as I’m getting up I see that there’s no traffic anymore and then I see that there’s another cop car down the street. So now everything around me is blocked off, because somebody saw me shooting across the street and now there’s a sniper.
I don’t have the chance to do anything else. My neighborhood is blocked off and now there are cops everywhere. Then a cop comes towards me, Terry, who happened to know me and who was a friend of my mother’s.
And he said, “Do you have a gun?” And I was like, “Yes, I have a gun. But you need to get upstairs because there’s a man upstairs about to kill my mom.”
While I was cuffed in the police car, Terry takes my gun from the pocket of my Catholic school uniform jacket, over my skirt, and in my other pocket I have bullets and Fireball candies, so get that visual.
When I was arrested I was released into my mother’s custody because I was a juvenile. And I was not arrested for attempted murder, I was arrested for possession of a loaded firearm, a lesser charge, thanks to the officer who knew me. Terry wiped the gun off and took the bullets. He said to me, “You never fired this, just remember that,” and I said, “OK.” And this officer saved me because he knew what kind of dirt-bag Sturgis was and that I was a good Catholic girl, just trying to protect her mama.
So, on Oct. 31, 1977, while other kids my age were out trick-or-treating, I was getting arrested and interrogated. Then he [Sturgis] shows up and he also gets arrested. So now I have accomplished what I wanted to do — I stopped this man from getting upstairs to my mama.
Because you told the police that he was coming.
Right, and they waited for him.
[Charges against Sturgis were dropped within a week when the prosecutor told the judge there was no evidence that Sturgis coerced or harassed Lorenz.]
Before this my mom was earning money working for the government. After that happened, everything was cut off and we went on welfare, we went all the way down to homelessness. I lived on the top of my girlfriend’s roof. Now mind you, I go to the welfare office and they say, “What’s your last name? Pérez Jiménez, really? Your father’s worth 600 million dollars, right?” And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve never seen a penny.”
What happened to your trust fund?
It was taken away when my mother revealed the unknown donor. I went to Spain to see my father twice before his death. I was greeted with threats of arrest by his family. All my attempts were met with venom. So the last time I ever saw my father was when I was a baby, before he went to prison.
So the FBI, the CIA, you had no more support from the government after that?
No. I started working at a very young age as a waitress. I didn’t finish high school, but tested my way into college later on in life. Once the Sturgis thing happened, I was kicked out of my high school because I didn’t make them look good. The New York Daily News, I was on the front page, 15-year-old girl goes after Watergate burglar. They put my school picture on the news.
Monica ended up working in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, working with such celebrities as model Cheryl Tiegs, actors Gregory Hines and David Keith and musician Herbie Hancock.
She appeared topless in Playboy with other female athletes in a 1991 pictorial called “Flex Appeal.” She became a bodybuilder and fitness athlete and placed seventh in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first Miss Fitness World competition in 1994, representing Latin America.
She became a musical theater actress and television stuntwoman in New York, working on HBO’s “Oz,” and developed a distinctive style of jumprope she calls the Mercedes Method, a combination of dance and jumprope skills.
She appeared with her son in a 2011 episode of “Fear Factor,” where she had to eat five scorpions, and where she came within one flag of winning $50,000.
In yet another connection to infamous historical events, she married one of the sons of Orlando Letelier, the Chilean socialist who was assassinated a few blocks from the White House by the Pinochet regime’s secret police in 1976. With Los Angeles artist Francisco Letelier, she had a son, Matias Orlando Letelier, who is now an assistant director and producer in L.A. and is the light of Monica’s life.
After three marriages, she met her current boyfriend, Augusto Polo (“my fourth and last relationship”) and they came to Puerto Viejo a year and a half ago to leave behind the hectic pace and glitzy lifestyle of New York and L.A. She hopes to start a charity here to help young single mothers and to open a fitness studio “where women can come to feel empowered and nurtured.”
She says people have often doubted her fantastic story about being a “spy kid,” the child of a German CIA operative and a Venezuelan president. She and her mother once went on a show called “Lie Detector,” and her mother passed two lie-detector tests confirming that the story was true.
Then she made contact with the eldest daughter of Marcos Pérez Jiménez, who remembered her from when she was a baby, and who agreed to submit a DNA sample to test Monica’s paternity. (The former president died in exile in Spain in 2001.) Monica has yet to meet the sister who helped her confirm her identity, but she looks forward to giving her a hug one day and visiting her father’s gravesite in Spain.
“I have forgiven all involved, as that is the only thing that can free a person from the chains of pain and anger,” she says. “I choose love, as did my mother.”
The results of the DNA test showed a 99.7 percent probability that Monica was “The Dictator’s Daughter,” which she thinks would be a good title for the memoir she plans to write.
She has the results of her DNA test— “99.7%” — tattooed on her right shoulder.