Cuba, España y los Estados Unidos | Organización Auténtica | Política Exterior de la O/A | Temas Auténticos | Líderes Auténticos | Figuras del Autenticismo | Símbolos de la Patria | Nuestros Próceres | Martirologio |

Presidio Político de Cuba Comunista | Costumbres Comunistas | Temática Cubana | Brigada 2506 | La Iglesia | Cuba y el Terrorismo | Cuba - Inteligencia y Espionaje | Cuba y Venezuela | Clandestinidad | United States Politics | Honduras vs. Marxismo | Bibliografía | Puentes Electrónicos |

Organizacion Autentica


by Don Bohning

Miami Herald Staff Writer

Gen. Erneido Oliva, now retired, was second in command at the Bay of Pigs. The issue of what to do with the Brigade members, had the invasion been called off at the eleventh hour, was `more than a problem. It was a big problem,' he says.

Thirty nine years later, Erneido Oliva, deputy military commander and hero of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, sees only a single solution for ridding Cuba of Fidel Castro: a military one.

Oliva is the highest-ranking survivor of the April 17, 1961, Bay of Pigs assault, one of the true milestone events of the Cold War. Nearly four decades later, Oliva spoke with The Herald in his first extensive interview on the invasion and its aftermath, saying that the solution to the Cuba problem lies not in another exile army, but in ``the Cuban armed forces reaching the conclusion that Castro does not offer anything to the Cuba of the future. . . .

``I don't want to put down the dissidents. I think it's great to have political factions in Cuba, but that will not get rid of Castro. The solution will come from the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.''

Among the observations and revelations he made in the interview, some for the first time:

The issue of what to do with the Brigade members, had the invasion been called off at the eleventh hour, was ``more than a problem. It was a big problem.''

The most overlooked historical aspect of the invasion is how the Brigade members - mostly young and inexperienced - performed with mountains of motivation but only limited training.

He concurs with invasion planners that the invasion failed because of the cancellation of air support and the last-minute change in landing site from the city of Trinidad to the isolated Bay of Pigs area, because the Kennedy administration thought it would be easier to conceal U.S. involvement.

He blames the administration of President John F. Kennedy for the failure of the Bay of Pigs, but says he has never felt betrayed, ``only profoundly disappointed with an ally.''

He still considers Kennedy the only president - excluding Eisenhower - who did more than talk about getting rid of Castro by supporting post-Bay of Pigs clandestine operations against Cuba. They included one directly under the late Bobby Kennedy, President Kennedy's brother and attorney general, in which he was involved. The operations were terminated by President Johnson.

After the invasion, Oliva went on to become a major general in the U.S. Army Reserves and deputy commanding officer of the Washington, D.C., National Guard before retiring Jan. 1, 1993. Since his retirement, the 67-year-old former general has remained active in the anti-Castro effort, maintaining his residence in Maryland and largely steering clear of exile politics.

In 1996, he formed the Cuban-American Military Council (CAMCO) to encourage what he sees as the Castro solution: the Cuban Revolutionary Armed forces.

Numbering more than 1,000, CAMCO is open to any Cuban military veteran, whether it be Brigade 2506, the U.S. Army or the Cuban army under Batista or Castro. Oliva has been a member of all four.

CAMCO's focus, with limited private resources, is to reach out through various means to Castro's military and ``convince them we can work together,'' that they have a role in Cuba's future.

``We have said we no longer want to be fighting you, invading you and killing you. There is no war in our repertoire. It's only love and friendship,'' says Oliva.

``When the time comes, I am sure that they [Cuban armed forces] will not point their weapons against the Cuban people. And that time will come . . . when Castro dies a natural death or is gone, the only ones who can really control Cuba and have a peaceful transition are the Cuban armed forces.''

The major problem, says Oliva, is overcoming their fear of what will happen to the Cuban armed forces once Castro is gone and the exiles return.

``Looking at the future, they are still not sure the exiles will protect them or will provide them with the security that they need and that's exactly my message to them. . . .''

As for Brigade 2506 and the invasion, some of Oliva's most revealing comments came in regard to the so-called ``disposal problem'' had there been a last-minute decision to call off the invasion.

It has long been speculated that one reason Kennedy did not call off the invasion was concern over a rebellion by Brigade members in their Guatemala training camps. Oliva confirms that there was reason for concern.

``I was gung ho at that time, a guy who really was there in the training, pushing everyone, training young officers, ready to fight,'' recalls Oliva, then age 28 and one of the few professional soldiers in the camps.

If the American advisors had told them to turn in their weapons - that they were going back to the United States instead of Cuba - says Oliva, ``I would have called them some bad words and said we are not going anywhere. We are going to fight whoever is in our way. I knew that we could not go to Cuba from there because I didn't have the means to transport our troops.

``But the problem that we would have created in Guatemala would have been so great, Cubans fighting the Guatemalan army, taking over Guatemala . . . I can tell you, the men that I had under my command at the time would have done anything that I told them to.

``This is something that nobody has ever written about . . . the Americans were the advisers and they were 15, maybe 20. That would not stop us, because we were the guys with the weapons . . . We have esprit de corps . . . We want to fight the communists, whether we fought in Guatemala or wherever.

``I am telling you that the disposal problem was more than a problem. It was a BIG problem. I think Kennedy made the right decision to say, hey, let them go to Cuba instead of bringing them back to Miami.''

So the Brigade sailed for Cuba on April 17 and its disastrous ending - recounted many times - came two days later, with 114 Brigade members killed and nearly all the rest captured, Oliva among them.

Oliva and the other captured Brigade members returned to a tumultuous December 1962 welcome in Miami's Orange Bowl after the Kennedy administration paid a $53 million ransom of food and medicine to Castro for their release.

Overlooked in the retellings of the Bay of Pigs saga, says Oliva, is the performance of the young Brigade members ``who enlisted because they had only one motivation, to see a free Cuba. . . . Ninety-nine percent of those who were there knew that Americans were supporting us. We could not fail.

``The Americans never failed before, so we are going to win. I have to risk my life but we are going to win. That was the mentality, motivation of these people. . . . After 39 years, I want for somebody to say, `you Brigadistas did an outstanding job' because they deserve it.''

Oliva blames President Kennedy and his advisors, not the troops on the beach nor the CIA or Pentagon, for the invasion's failure. That was in part because of a last-minute change in the landing site from Trinidad, on the south Cuba coast near the Escambray mountains, to isolated Playa Giron on the Bay of Pigs, about 80 miles to the west. There, it was felt, it would be easier to conceal U.S. involvement.

``The Trinidad site was 400 percent better,'' says Oliva. ``We have a big air strip. . . . We have a huge bay. We have a population that could have joined us. We were close to the Escambray mountains . . . so there you have a source of reinforcement . . . from the population, from the guerrillas that were at that time in the Escambray.

``But they [the Kennedy administration] considered that it was too spectacular; that it would show the involvement of the United States and that's something that they wanted always to hide,'' says Oliva.

``It was naive to try and hide something like that. How could the Cubans ever have been able to mount that type of operation? I don't know what those people were thinking at the time. It was more than naive. It was stupid to think that you can hide the hands of the Americans in something like. . . .''

Still, while he blames the Kennedy administration for the invasion's failure, Oliva refuses to say the invaders were betrayed.

``I was profoundly disappointed in an ally who organized and trained the Brigade but did not fulfill its moral obligations when it felt that its role was discovered and its national interests at risk,'' says Oliva.

But even in the ``darkness of my isolated cells, I never felt betrayed,'' insists Oliva. ``Rather, I felt proud of my accomplishment fighting for a just cause. . . . I was not fighting for American interests. I was a Cuban citizen fighting for my native country.''

Oliva still speaks well of Kennedy, compared to other U.S. presidents.

``The others made a lot of promises during their respective political campaigns while running for the presidency, but did nothing when they attained it,'' says Oliva.

Kennedy - whether motivated by guilt or revenge - quickly instituted two clandestine anti-Castro operations after the Bay of Pigs. One, after the prisoners returned, was directed by his brother, Bobby, also the attorney general, and involved Oliva and the late Manuel Artime, civilian commander of the Bay of Pigs Brigade. The other was the earlier and better known Operation Mongoose, run by the CIA from Miami.

Within less than a month after their December 1962 return from Cuban prisons, says Oliva, he and Artime met privately with Bobby Kennedy at Kennedy's Hickory Hill estate in Virginia.

The meeting was the genesis for Artime's $6-million program of paramilitary operations against Cuba from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Oliva was, until the end of the program, in charge of the military side from the United States, serving as liaison with then Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance and his aide, Alexander Haig.

It was also agreed at the Hickory Hill meeting, said Oliva, to constitute a Cuban unit within the U.S. Army, bringing together all those Cuban-born soldiers, then numbering several thousand, that would eventually work in collaboration with the Artime forces to ``facilitate the liberation of Cuba.''

Oliva says, however, that no new invasion of Cuba was discussed at that time.

The entire program ended a year later, after Kennedy's November 1963 assassination.

Oliva, then undergoing artillery training at Fort Sill, Okla., received a call from Bobby Kennedy in January 1964, asking him to come to Washington. He did. He met Kennedy at the White House. There he told Oliva that he had bad news about the Pentagon program for training Cubans in the U.S. armed forces.

``A few minutes later we went to the library, not the Oval Office, and Johnson came in and flatly told me my program with the Cubans had to be terminated. Bobby didn't say anything,'' remembers Oliva.

``He told me before that he had tried to persuade him . . . he didn't want to try and persuade the president in front of me. So he was only listening, his head bowed. Pretty sad. That was a 15-minute meeting.''


Personal: Born June 20, 1932, in Aguacate, Cuba, south of Havana. Lives with wife, Graciela Ana Portela Avila, in Fort Washington, Md. They have two grown children.

Professional: 1954 - commissioned 2nd lieutenant in Cuban Army after graduating from Cuban Military Academy. 1955-58 - Militay Academy artillery instructor. 1958-59 - student and instructor at the U.S. Army Caribbean School in Panama. 1963 - commissioned in U.S. Army, appointed to represent Cuban-American personnel in U.S. armed forces. 1970-1987 - holds several positions with District of Columbia government. 1984 - promoted to brigadier general in Army Reserves and major general in 1992. 1987 - appointed deputy commanding general of Washington, D.C., National Guard; retires in 1993.

Cuban resistance: 1960 - leaves Cuba to become deputy commander of Brigade 2506, the Cuban invasion brigade. Captured during the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Released with other prisoners in December 1962. In 1996, founds the private Cuban-American Military Council.


Don Bohning

Miami Herald Staff Writer
The Miami Herald
Sunday, April 16, 2000


Cuba, España y los Estados Unidos | Organización Auténtica | Política Exterior de la O/A | Temas Auténticos | Líderes Auténticos | Figuras del Autenticismo | Símbolos de la Patria | Nuestros Próceres | Martirologio |

Presidio Político de Cuba Comunista | Costumbres Comunistas | Temática Cubana | Brigada 2506 | La Iglesia | Cuba y el Terrorismo | Cuba - Inteligencia y Espionaje | Cuba y Venezuela | Clandestinidad | United States Politics | Honduras vs. Marxismo | Bibliografía | Puentes Electrónicos |

Organización Auténtica