Bay of Pigs veteran hopes for last glimpse of Cuba

Forty-five years after taking part in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, Tomas Vazquez has no fight left in him, and simply dreams of seeing the island he loves one last time before he dies.

“I am old, I’m tired,” says Vazquez (77) surrounded by Cuban memorabilia and a dozen former comrades-in-arms. “My only hope is to be able to spend a week in Cuba, come back and die.”

He and the other aging veterans who hang out at Miami’s “Brigade 2506” social club still reminisce about the fateful Cold War days in April 1961 when Cuban forces decimated the CIA-backed volunteers who had expected little resistance.

Vazquez proudly shows his battle scars, and a lump on his left elbow he says still contains two bullets fired by Cuban troops.

It was not the first time he fought in his native Cuba. In 1959, he had joined Fidel Castro and Argentine revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara in the battle to topple dictator Fulgencio Batista, but eventually quit the rebel ranks “when they started talking about communism”.

His hatred of communism also led him to fight in Vietnam after his 1962 release from a Cuban prison and return to the United States.

He still hates President Fidel Castro with a vengeance, but has given up hopes Cuba’s communist leader will be ousted any time soon.

“I don’t fight any more, the people we now have in Cuba grew up with Fidel Castro, they’re useless.”

Cesar Luaises (85) is equally disillusioned.

Every now and then he’ll recall his exploits as a young pilot who dropped 40 paratroopers on the Cuban beach, but mostly, he just sits at the club, greets old friends and reads newspapers.

“I lost. To hell with it ... it’s over, there’s no solution,” he says sitting by the pictures of the “martyrs”, the 100 Cuban exiles killed at the Bay of Pigs beaches.

Only about 150 members of the 1 500-strong brigade managed to escape; the others were either killed in battle or captured by the Cuban armed forces.

The prisoners were freed in 1962 after payment to Cuba of $53-million worth of food and medicine.

US officials at the time said the invasion was organised by Cuban patriots, though it was covertly financed by the Central Intelligence Agency. The Soviet Union stepped up support for Cuba after the invasion and the failed attack helped trigger the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.

The fiasco was an embarrassment for US President John F Kennedy, who inherited the plan from his predecessor, Dwight D Eisenhower, and who later privately regretted agreeing to the advice of the US military. At the last minute, Kennedy decided not to provide air support for the attack.

“They told us we’d have air support, but they didn’t give us any support. There was nothing we could do,” says Luaises.

Vazquez is equally bitter. “They cheated us,” he says. But he does not blame Kennedy. “He was a good person, I think if he hadn’t been killed, we would have liberated Cuba, that was his intention.” - AFP

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