18. “An Awful Blow to the Cuban Exile Cause”

Title Quote: Diego Medina

In December of 1964, about 18 months after Plan Omega had been conceived, the time had finally arrived for Menoyo to implement the scheme. The recent reports placing Menoyo’s operation in the Dominican Republic proved to be correct. Menoyo had been provided with a base at Punta Presidente near the Haitian border and received training by the Dominican government in topography, communication and general military procedure. Arms were transported from Puerto Rico to the base by a 24-foot launch named the Bertha. Dominican Colonel Juan Folch served as a liaison between the local government and Menoyo’s operation.

Menoyo had about 20 men at Punta Presidente and his plan was to split the men into a few small groups for infiltration into Cuba. Menoyo himself would lead the first group which included Domingo Ortega Acosta, Ramone Quesada Gomez and Noel Salos Santos. The four men landed at Punta Caleta on the easternmost tip of Cuba in the early morning of December 28th. Menoyo had expected to receive help from the locals but his requests for aid were largely rejected and the group was reported to the authorities. Menoyo and his men were captured about a month after they left Punta Presidente by “hundreds of production workers” who had walked off the job to pursue the quartet.

At first, the alliance refused to accept the reports of their leader’s capture. “There is no confirmation and we doubt it,” alliance leader Reynaldo Abreau told the Associated Press. “Plan Omega is not a plan that belongs to one man alone,” Joaquin Godoy maintained.1 But when Menoyo appeared on Cuban television a few days later and confirmed the details of his attempted infiltration and subsequent capture, the exiles were forced to accept the truth.

When asked by his Cuban interrogators if his cause was just, Menoyo, who was chastened by the attitude of the people he encountered, replied, “If all the people are with this [Castro’s government] it is totally unjust.” A new spin employed by some exile supporters was to proclaim Menoyo a martyr and an example for others. “There are more Menoyos,” Hector Morales wrote in the Fort Lauderdale News, “unqualified [José] Martis ready to sacrifice their lives for what is dear to them.” “They won’t bow their heads in defeat,” Morales concluded.2

But others acknowledged the reality; Menoyo’s capture was an incalculable blow to the revolutionary alliance of Alpha 66-SNFE-MRP and effectively ended the hope that any exile group could remove Castro without the help of US forces. “It’s a terrible thing—an awful blow to the Cuban exile cause,” Diego Medina admitted. The exiles were “stunned” by the public confessions made by Menoyo and his men and speculated that the four had been tortured. “Everyone is aware that the human mind is not invulnerable to the highly refined, scientific methods used on Castro prisoners,” Medina added. “The length of time between the first Havana announcement of the capture and the confessions—some 30 hours—shows that Eloy didn’t break easily,” Medina concluded.3

But according to an interview he gave years later, Menoyo’s confession was not obtained through torture. Menoyo said that he was blindfolded and put on a plane which he assumed was flying him to his death. After a 90-minute trip, the blindfold was removed and he was face to face with Castro himself. The bearded leader told the startled Menoyo that he could save his life, and more importantly the lives of his men, if he would go on television and say that the Cuban people had refused to support his infiltration. It was probably an easy decision for Menoyo and he did what Castro asked. Following his TV appearance, Menoyo spent six months at Cuban State Security headquarters where he endured frequent interrogations. Despite Castro’s promise, Menoyo was ultimately tried and sentenced to death.

Shortly after the trial, Castro stopped a speech he was giving at the University of Havana to ask the students if Menoyo should be executed or ransomed. The students told Castro they preferred ransom and they were not the only ones who lobbied on Menoyo’s behalf. Although no ransom was ever arranged, pleas for clemency came from such notables as Spanish cellist Pablo Casals and former Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas, a frequent Castro guest.4 Menoyo’s life was spared but he spent 22 years in prison including two years at the notorious Isle of Pines. There, he was severely beaten causing him to lose sight in one eye and hearing in one ear. He was finally released in late 1986 largely due to pressure brought on Castro by Felipe Gonzalez, Spain’s socialist Prime Minister. Upon gaining his freedom, Menoyo took up residence in Madrid.

Menoyo’s years of confinement led to a tempering of his views. In 1993, he founded a group called Cambio Cubano whose objective was to “employ dialog with the Cuban government as a means to achieve a peaceful transition to democracy on the island.” Although Menoyo secured a meeting with Castro in 1995, the dictator refused to allow him to open an office in Cuba for his organization.5 In 2003, Menoyo returned to his beloved homeland where he hoped to work for “peace and reconciliation.”6 In reality, he did little to accomplish his goal of a democratic Cuba and lived out his final years as a “tolerated dissident” according to the New York Times. He died in Havana on October 26th, 2012, at the age of 77.7

By March of 1965, the alliance was dismantling its base in Punta Presidente which reportedly had only a single guard. Fleites emerged as the new alliance leader but his political as opposed to “action-oriented” leadership style was reportedly causing “unrest” among the rank and file. Veciana was again in Puerto Rico, this time running a lottery scheduled for April to be held in conjunction with the Puerto Rico lottery. It is unclear if this lottery was to benefit the alliance or Veciana personally, but either way his alliance fundraising endeavors had shown the way to a new avocation.

During the month of May, Veciana expressed his desire to resign from the alliance. Veciana probably had several reasons for his decision. Foremost among these was likely that he saw no realistic way forward for the group after the capture of Menoyo. Additionally, Veciana reportedly described the post-Menoyo alliance as a “madhouse” and he was dubious about the leadership of Fleites as many members reportedly were. But the deciding factor for Veciana may have been his belief that he could make a great deal of money through promotions and other activities. And this was money that he could keep rather than handing it over to what he may have seen as a lost cause.8 Nazario talked Veciana into delaying his public resignation for a time since it was believed it would be “disastrous” for the alliance in the wake of the Menoyo capture. Veciana agreed to stay on for an unspecified amount of time in name only.

Nevertheless, Veciana did not remain in the alliance for long and resigned as early as June. Veciana continued to work on sports promotions and in late June, it was reported that his attorney threatened to sue middleweight champion Joey Giardello for $25,000 unless he fought contender Florentino Fernandez.9 In October, an alliance meeting was held for the purpose of persuading Veciana to rejoin the group. Veciana, who was said to be working in Puerto Rico in the “Christmas Card” business, told the assembled leaders that he had joined the alliance because of his confidence in Menoyo but did not have the same feeling for the “present leaders.” Despite an appeal to Veciana’s “sense of responsibility” and “vanity,” the alliance was unable to move him.

A second October meeting Veciana attended in Puerto Rico was for the purpose of uniting non-active leaders of the exile community. Present at this meeting were Manuel Ray and Veciana’s mentor Rufo López-Fresquet. Veciana told the FBI that the gathering was “foredoomed” since neither Ray nor López-Fresquet “would join a group which [they] could not lead.” In February 1966, the Miami News reported that Veciana was a member of the newly formed Cuban Center for Political Studies. The purpose of the group was to provide “unity on a socio-political level” to pave the way for an eventual return to Cuba. The organization claimed more than one hundred members including Diego Media, Mario Fontela of the non-militant FORDC labor group and despite Veciana’s pessimistic forecast—Ray and López-Fresquet.10

In April of 1966, Veciana was again threatening legal action to stop a boxing match. This time the event was the Dick Tiger-Emile Griffith middleweight title fight to take place in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Veciana showed a copy of a contract that said Tiger was not to engage in any other fight until he first met Luis Manuel Rodriquez. The Tiger-Griffith fight went on as scheduled and it is unclear if Veciana ever filed an injunction or received the requested $25,000 compensation.11

Despite Veciana’s resignation from the alliance and his desire to earn a living through sports promotions and other means, he was still interested in obtaining funding from the US government for anti-Castro work. In the first half of April, James K. “Jack” Cogswell contacted the CIA through his aunt, Francis Cogswell, a former agency staff employee. Cogswell, whose family lineage was rich in US Navy history, said that he had information of value to the agency regarding the Cuban situation. The CIA’s John R. Lucy contacted Cogswell by phone and arranged to meet him at the Racquet and Tennis Club on New York’s exclusive Park Avenue on April 19th.12

According to Lucy’s report of the meeting, when he arrived at the club, he was met by Cogswell and Veciana. This was Veciana’s third meeting with agency representatives and after two previous unsuccessful attempts to gain assistance he may have seen this as his last shot. Without preamble, Veciana launched into a 15-minute monologue regarding the Cuban situation and his “strong feeling” that Castro should be eliminated. When Lucy was finally able to “get hold” of the conversation, he informed Veciana that he was in no position to render aid for an assassination attempt. Lucy admonished Veciana by saying that he thought the purpose of the meeting was for him to provide information helpful to the US government.

Veciana saw his opening and told Lucy about his friend Felix Zabala in Puerto Rico. Veciana advised Lucy that Zabala had a sister in Cuba who was married to an official of the Communist Party. Veciana went on to say that Zabala’s sister was employed by the Cuban Minister of the Interior and that he had visited Cuba the previous November with her help. Veciana and Cogswell believed these facts would be of significant interest to the agency and this was why Cogswell made the contact. Lucy’s curiosity was piqued by the Zabala story, which he believed had “operational possibilities.” But the CIA man saw through Veciana whom he noted in his report was “attempting to use Zabala’s potential to get agency financial support for his organization.” In that regard, Veciana told Lucy that he would need $50,000 to get “off the ground.” Lucy ended the meeting by telling Veciana that he would investigate just the Zabala matter and probably contact him. With that, Veciana’s long held dream of CIA funding went unceremoniously down the drain.

Veciana’s meeting with Lucy raises serious concerns about this and indeed all three of the meetings that he initiated with the CIA after he allegedly met Bishop. Veciana supposedly was aware from the beginning of his relationship with Bishop that Alpha 66 was expected to raise their own funds to maintain “plausible deniability” while Bishop would provide “weapons” and “information.”13 Why would Veciana go behind Bishop/Phillips’ back and ask another CIA agent for $50,000 when doing so could risk alienating Bishop who was supposedly directing all of Alpha 66’s operations? And why did Veciana not mention this meeting with Lucy in his book?

By 1968, Veciana had ceased his more militant anti-Castro work and was running his own company with Zabala called Puerto Rico Promotions and Entertainment and dividing his time between Miami and the commonwealth.14 Although Veciana had not been able to secure the much-coveted CIA money, by August of that year he had figured out another way to get on the government dole. That month, Veciana began work with the Central Bank of Bolivia in La Paz as a “commercial banking expert” under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which provided funding for the project. Veciana was probably able to get this job using his extensive network of personal contacts. In 1970, Veciana began a second contract with USAID, this time working at the Banco Agricola de Bolivia. The job was a windfall for Veciana who earned as much as $31,512 per annum during his four years with USAID.15 That is the equivalent of about $200,000 in today’s funds.

There are several takeaways when reviewing the story of Veciana’s years with Alpha 66:

  • Veciana said that Bishop masterminded the 1961 Castro assassination attempt. But there is no evidence that the plot was the work of one man and Phillips is not mentioned as a participant even by Escalante.
  • The best evidence indicates that Menoyo and Veciana were the principal founders of Alpha 66 although several others have maintained that they had a role. Veciana claims that Bishop ordered him to create the group. But Menoyo and his SNFE followers were looking to generate an organized effort to retake Cuba long before Veciana came on the scene. It is likely that Menoyo and company were the real impetus behind the group and only added Veciana to the mix because of his proven contacts within the exile community. Furthermore, Veciana’s role with the group as a public spokesman was employed because Menoyo needed a cover due to his unpopularity with some exiles.
  • Alpha 66 was not funded by the CIA—a fact that Veciana confirmed saying that Bishop told him the group would have to find its own funding. Despite this, Veciana went behind Bishop’s back three times and spoke to CIA representatives regarding funding and other help. If Bishop was real, why would he do this since the powerful mentor would undoubtedly find out?
  • While Alpha 66 was still in its heyday, Veciana began a relationship with Army Intelligence that he and Fonzi never fully acknowledged. But why would he do this when his CIA mentor Bishop was supposedly calling the shots and providing him with whatever he needed in the way of supplies?
  • Veciana’s claims regarding the March 1963 press conference allegedly setup by Bishop are demonstrably false.
  • Veciana says Bishop was controlling Alpha 66. But that is not possible since Menoyo, Veciana, Nazario, Fleites, Cecilio Vazquez, Carlos Penin and others were involved in the day-to-day operations of the group. Additionally, no one from Alpha 66 or SNFE ever said they were aware of an American working with Veciana. Indeed, notable acquaintances of Veciana such as Manuel Ray and Rufo López-Fresquet had never heard of Bishop.
  • Although the leaders of Alpha 66 maintained that no one individual ran the group, Menoyo effectively did just that through 1965 since the organization could not raise funds or function in any meaningful way without the raids he was conducting. Indeed, when Menoyo was captured, Veciana quit Alpha 66 and the group became a mostly symbolic effort run by Nazario.

The Bishop Hoax Table of Contents


Notes

1. Associated Press, “Cuban Exiles Doubt Capture of Rebel Chief.” The Pensacola News, January 27, 1965, 6.
2. Hector Morales, “Cuban Exiles Inspired by Menoyo’s Capture.” Fort Lauderdale News, February 4, 1965, 11.
3. Mary Louise Wilkinson, “Fight for Cuba Suffers Setback.” The Miami News, January 28, 1965, 3.
4. Brown, Cuba’s Revolutionary World, 180.
5. Douglas Martin, “Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, Cuban Dissident, Dies at 77.” The New York Times, October 26, 2012.
6. Luisa Yanez, Oscar Corral and Adriana Cordovi, “Foe Back in Cuba to Oppose Castro.” The Miami Herald, August 8, 2003.
7. Douglas Martin, “Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, Cuban Dissident, Dies at 77.” The New York Times, October 26, 2012.
8. Rufo López-Fresquet believed that Veciana made good money from sports promotions. “He would organize a sport competition in Puerto Rico,” López-Fresquet remembered, “and he’s so good, and knew it always, that he could make 50 [possibly should say 15] or 20 thousand dollars out of the whole thing” (Transcript of HSCA Interview with Rufo López-Fresquet, May 19, 1977, 12. RIF 180-10086-10456).
9. Associated Press, “Would Sue Joey Giardello.” The Journal Times (Racine WI), June 30, 1965, 23. Giardello never fought Fernandez and it is unclear if the lawsuit by Veciana went forward (boxrec.com).
10. Mary Louise Wilkinson, “Exile Groups Unite for Cuba Study.” The Miami News, February 27, 1966, 9.
11. Associated Press, “Suit Filed to Stop Tiger Bout.” The Tampa Tribune, April 7, 1966, 8.
12. Veciana CIA 201 File, October 21, 1960. Record Number 1994.05.09.10:57:29:630005. Lucy used pseudonyms in his contacts including that of John Livingston (104-10422-10277).
13. Veciana with Harrison, Trained to Kill, 108.
14. HSCA Summary of Veciana 201 File, RIF 180-10145-10331; FBI Document, February 18, 1969. RIF 124-90152-10026.
15. Telegram from the La Paz Embassy to the Department of State, April 26, 1976. RIF 180-10104-10396.

0 comments:

Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.