11. “One of the Bravest Men I Have Ever Known”

Title Quote: Antonio Veciana
Photo: Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo

On October 7th, 1961, the small boat carrying Veciana landed in Key West, Florida.1 According to his autobiography, shortly after his arrival Veciana traveled to Puerto Rico where he drew upon contacts from his days with the Cuban accountant’s association.2 After their relocation to Puerto Rico, these exiles formed a new association with connections to people who Veciana recognized could provide financing for a new anti-Castro paramilitary group.3

According to his version of events, at the very first meeting of Puerto Rican exiles, Veciana counted 65 men besides himself who represented a range of occupations. Veciana rose to speak to the assembled body and to establish his bona fides, began his oratory by claiming responsibility for fire bombings in Cuba. He then told the crowd, “We are the beginning of Castro’s end.” Drawing on his Catholic schooling Veciana finished with the improvised line, “We are the Alpha … Alpha 66-the beginning of the end for Castro!” Veciana’s remarks were received with “thunderous applause” by the assembly.4

As is evident by now, Veciana’s book is filled with fanciful tales that should be viewed skeptically. Even so, the historical record indicates that Veciana was at least a co-founder of Alpha 66. But the key figure in that group from its inception through 1965 was not Veciana but another individual whom he called “one of the bravest men I have ever known.”5 He was Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo and an understanding of his story is necessary in determining fact from fiction regarding this important period of Veciana’s life.

An apt description of Menoyo in his prime comes from an FBI interrogation summary. Menoyo was 5 feet 10 inches tall but tipped the scale at only 133 pounds. He had brown hair and eyes and a light complexion with a scar in the middle of his lower lip that extended to the center of his chin. Menoyo “can be considered handsome” the document continued, “and [he] enjoys dancing” and was a “good conversationalist” with a “pleasant smile.” He was a chain smoker who preferred filtered cigarettes and seemed relatively unfazed by the FBI grilling. Despite his non-imposing build, Menoyo had a “tendency to swagger” and listed his interests as “chess, ping-pong, boxing, judo and women.”

Menoyo was born in Madrid on December 8, 1934. Battling despots such as Castro was a family tradition. His father, who was a physician, and his brothers all fought against Spanish dictator Francisco Franco resulting in one sibling being killed in action. Menoyo’s father was imprisoned by Franco for a time and later stripped of his license to practice medicine.6 Seeking refuge from such oppression, Menoyo’s brother Carlos emigrated to Cuba in 1946 and gradually brought the remainder of his family starting with his mother and sisters and finally Menoyo and his father. When Batista seized power in 1952, Carlos resolved to fight the new dictator.7 Ultimately, Carlos was killed during an attack on Batista’s Presidential palace in 1957. Menoyo himself fought against Batista since the early fifties and had participated in the same attack that took his brother’s life.8

On November 10, 1957, in the wake of his loss of a second brother, Menoyo formed the Second National Front of the Escambray (Segundo Frente Nacional de Escambray in Spanish or SNFE for short) as a paramilitary group whose mission was the removal of Batista.9 The year 1957 marked the beginning of a rivalry between Castro and Menoyo (and their respective organizations) that would last for the remainder of the latter’s life. After SNFE was established, Menoyo appealed to Castro’s 26th of July movement for arms and assistance but heard nothing. In January of the following year, Menoyo received a letter from Castro asking that SNFE relocate to eastern Cuba to assist him. Menoyo and SNFE turned the tables and defied Castro’s wishes by continuing the fight in west-central Cuba’s Las Villas province.

Menoyo and SNFE conducted hit and run raids against small elements of Batista’s Army with some success. The group was able to obtain much needed weapons and ammunition from these raids and ultimately came out of hiding and established an open headquarters. Menoyo attributed much of SNFE’s success to intelligence obtained from local peasants who informed the group of the locations of Batista’s supply depots and transportation centers.

As a result of the combined efforts of Castro’s 26th of July movement, SNFE and other rebel forces, it became apparent by the end of 1958 that Batista’s position was untenable. This was not because of the superiority of the rebel forces as it was clear that they were greatly outnumbered by Batista’s troops. But the rebel forces had the support of the Cuban people, while Batista’s Army was despised for their brutality. At 2:00 am on New Year’s Day 1959, Batista abandoned Cuba to Castro and flew to the Dominican Republic.10 Although Menoyo retained his rank, his SNFE forces were absorbed into Castro’s army. It soon became evident to Menoyo that his SNFE men were not receiving their fair share of command positions within Castro’s new revolutionary Army. For this reason, Menoyo refused to cash paychecks from Castro after February and instead ran a nightclub to support himself. For the next two years, Menoyo performed a balancing act as he evaluated Castro’s intentions and his own situation.

In early March of 1959, William Alexander Morgan, an American who fought beside Menoyo against Batista, was contacted by an ex-con named Frank Nelson. Morgan was informed by Nelson that Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic, was willing to pay a million dollars for the head of Fidel Castro.11 Morgan and Menoyo may have entertained the idea of joining the conspiracy for a time, but they eventually decided it was too dangerous and Castro had to be told.12 Menoyo and Morgan went to Fidel and gave him a general outline of the plan against him. Castro told the men to play along with the scheme while his security services worked to infiltrate the conspiracy.13

On August 13th, the Trujillo plot was smashed by Castro and Menoyo and Morgan were lauded as heroes by the bearded leader in a press conference the following day.14 But the honeymoon with Fidel was short-lived for both men and the tensions dating back to the rivalry between Castro’s 26th of July movement and SNFE quickly resumed. In June of 1960, Menoyo, Morgan and a few of their trusted SNFE men met at Morgan’s home in Havana. It was agreed that their worst fears had been realized and that Castro and the revolution had turned to communism.15 After arrests of Morgan's comrades for counterrevolutionary activities began to increase, he organized weapons to be smuggled to the rebels in the Escambray.16

On October 16, 1960, Castro ordered Morgan’s arrest. Three days later, Morgan was apprehended by Castro’s state security while attending a meeting of the National Institute for Agrarian Reform. After being detained at G-2 headquarters for about a month, Morgan was transferred to La Cabana Prison overlooking Havana Harbor. On March 9th, 1961, he was taken before a military tribunal, pronounced guilty of conspiracy and treason and sentenced to death. Just two days later, the verdict was carried out by firing squad.17

Menoyo had visited his friend at the prison in December. “You are my chief and brother,” Morgan told him as the pair embraced and said their final goodbyes.18 Although Menoyo had not participated in the arms smuggling and was not detained by Castro, he had seen the handwriting on the wall. Like thousands of others, he chose to fight the Castro regime from the safety of the United States. On the night of January 25th, 1961, Menoyo and a dozen SNFE loyalists departed Havana Harbor bound for Florida. They arrived in Key West in the early morning hours of the 26th.

Accompanying Menoyo were several individuals who would have a profound impact on anti-Castro activities in the United States for years to come. Andres Nazario Sargen was born in Cuba in 1911 to a Lebanese family and originally fought against Batista before joining Menoyo’s SNFE in the Escambray mountains. Fearing retribution for his anti-Castro activities, Nazario joined Menoyo’s group and fled the island nation.19 Also in the group was Armando Fleites Diaz, the only physician in SNFE. Fleites had been encouraged to pursue revolutionary activities by his father who had fought against Machado. When Fleites told his father he would indeed fight Batista, the elder man gave him a handgun and a hug and said, “it’s your duty.”20 A third key individual to join Menoyo’s band of refugees was Max Lesnik Menendez. Unlike most of the group, Lesnik was not a military man but would nevertheless prove to be an important ally for Menoyo and the anti-Castro movement as a journalist.

The CIA briefly interrogated Menoyo at an Immigration and Naturalization Service facility in Miami and realized that “firmer” interrogation techniques would be needed to ensure that he was not a Castro agent. But before the agency could begin their enhanced interrogation, Menoyo and his group were transferred to an INS detention facility in McAllen, Texas.

Max Lesnik, one of the “McAllen thirteen,” remembered, “During that time, we received information that … the [Bay of Pigs] is going to be prepared, that the Cuban Revolutionary Council has been formed … [but] we are out of the game, in limbo.”21 On June 6th, 1961, the group was released after being held for over four months.22 They remained in the McAllen area long enough to attend a mass for their slain comrade Morgan. In a prepared statement, Menoyo declared, “Yesterday, we fought in the mountains of Escambray … now, we are ready to fight for the liberty of our country that we love ...”23

Menoyo and the reconstituted SNFE spent the next few months planning strategy and searching for a way to fund their anti-Castro activities. “We’re coming back Fidel,” Menoyo warned with certitude in an August news article. “Fidel himself has said that all you need to defeat an Army,” Menoyo quipped, “are guerrilla fighters and cattle.” “We will supply the guerrilla fighters,” he vowed, “and the cattle are already in Cuba.”24 But by December, Menoyo was relegated to selling anti-Castro “tickets” to fund the group’s “activities” and he admitted to reporters that plans to funnel weapons to “revolutionary guerillas” in Cuba had not yet “developed.”25 Menoyo possessed a battle-hardened group of fighters in the likes of men such as Nazario and Fleites and others. He even had a propaganda expert in the form of Lesnik. What he sorely needed was a money man. That role would ultimately be filled by Veciana.

Go to Chapter 12

The Bishop Hoax Table of Contents


1. CIA memo from Chris Hopkins to Record, May 1977. RIF 104-10102-10176. In Veciana’s HSCA testimony, he stated the date was October 5th (HSCA Executive Session Testimony of Antonio Veciana, April 25, 1978, 20. RIF 180-10116-10202).
2. Veciana often confuses (or purposely misrepresents) events in his book. He writes, “When it came time to spirit me out of Cuba, [Bishop] provided me with a job, working for the United States government in Bolivia” (Trained to Kill, Preface). But Veciana left Cuba in 1961 and didn’t start work in Bolivia until 1968.
3. Veciana with Harrison, Trained to Kill, 109.
4. Veciana with Harrison, Trained to Kill, 109.
5. Veciana with Harrison, Trained to Kill, 110.
6. Volsky, “In Castro’s Gulag.”
7. Yarbro, “Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, Founder of Cambio Cubano, Confronts a Force as Powerful as Castro: the Exiles who Condemn his Moderate Views.”
8. Paul Haven, “Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, 77; Fought Beside, Against Castro.” The Boston Globe, October 27, 2012, B10.
9. Associated Press, “Exiles Plan More Raids Against Cuba.” Fort Lauderdale News, November 11, 1962, 17.
10. Brown, Cuba’s Revolutionary World, 1-2.
11. Sallah and Weiss, The Yankee Comandante, 135-136.
12. Sources vary on how long Menoyo and Morgan entertained the idea of the Trujillo conspiracy and what the depth of their involvement was. Two diametrically opposed versions of the story demonstrate this point. According to Sallah and Weiss in The Yankee Comandante (139-140), the men decided almost immediately to tell Castro about the conspiracy and never seriously considered joining in the plot. But in the Cuban version of the story as told by Fabian Escalante, it was Morgan who told Nelson that he would kill Castro for a million dollars. Both Morgan and Menoyo signed onto the plot and even received partial payment. It was not until sometime later (possibly as late as June) that Morgan and Menoyo became concerned that the CIA-backed plot (all misdeeds are “CIA-backed” according to Escalante) would be uncovered and reported its existence to Castro solely to save their own skin (Escalante, The Secret War, 19-22).
13. Sallah and Weiss, The Yankee Comandante, 141.
14. Escalante, The Secret War, 28-29; Sallah and Weiss, The Yankee Comandante, 175.
15. Shetterly, The Americano, 254.
16. Grann, “The Yankee Comandante.”
17. Grann, “The Yankee Comandante.” Fabian Escalante claimed in his book The Secret War that Morgan was a CIA operative. But newly released documents dispute this. A CIA memo dated just two weeks before Morgan’s arrest expressed “strenuous objections” to the idea of using him as an asset. Army Intelligence was interested in using Morgan, but that never came to fruition (Grann, “The Yankee Comandante”).
18. Grann, “The Yankee Comandante.”
19. Madeline Baro Diaz, “Andres Nazario Sargen, 88, anti-Castro militant.” South Florida Sun Sentinel, October 8, 2004, 39. Nazario was the Secretary General of Alpha 66 for 40 years and would continue his anti-Castro efforts until his death at age 88.
20. Sallah and Weiss, The Yankee Comandante, 39-40.
21. Hernandez, “I've always considered myself a socialist: Max Lesnik talks about the Cuban Revolution.”
22. After their detention in McAllen, Menoyo and his group may have received training by the CIA once the agency was convinced they were not Castro agents (124-90135-10097).
23. “Border Patrol Frees 13 Cubans After Four Months of Detention.” The Monitor (McAllen, Texas), June 7, 1961, 3.
24. George Southworth, “’We’re Coming Back Fidel,’ Former Comrade Warns.” The Miami Herald, August 6, 1961, 32.
25. “Anti-Castro Tickets Hit a Cold Front.” The Miami News, December 21, 1961, 1. The ticket sales were accompanied by exaggerated reports of the exploits of anti-Castro fighters in Cuba supplied by Menoyo and others (“Reports of More Fighting in Cuba Lack Confirmation.” The Orlando Sentinel, December 22, 1961, 3).


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