The Christmas lunch that Edmundo hosted for relatives of three generations was a very happy family affair but was also tinged with a touch of sadness for times past and still more relatives passing away. It has been fifty years since Edmundo left Cuba as a 13 year-old but memories ring so loud. I am only now coming to grips with the suffering they’ve all experienced, and learned so much during the afternoon.
The family attended an Anniversary Mass for their Aunt Rosa before the lunch. Her daughter Rose (Tita) who is now wheelchair bound was at the Mass. Tita is the mother of Edmundo’s cousins, Fausto and Sylvia by two husbands. Both pilots for the CIA and both shot down over the Congo. The brother of Tita, Bernard Barker, one of the ‘Group of 5’ (also CIA) led the Watergate break-in to the Democratic Party HQ. A very liberal Democrat, McGovern was running against Nixon and Cuban allegiances were with the Republican party.
In the midst of all this, 87 year-old Nena told me that she flew to the US from Venezuela on the actual day of the ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion – she couldn’t fly over Cuban airspace and had to detour to reach Miami. How much untold history is in the room! I needed a ‘refresher’ on the ‘Bay of Pigs’.
The ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion was carried out by nearly 3,000 crème de la crème of Cuban exile young men, who had undergone training in Central America with the help of the US military and CIA. The mission failed. Kennedy got cold feet and withdrew air and naval support that was promised. Castro captured the invaders and executed many. He jailed others and took about 1,500 prisoners (including Sergio with whom we had dinner last Sunday evening).
The following year, at the request of the Kennedys, who felt guilty for the fiasco, the Archbishop of Boston led negotiations with Castro and raised money to meet his demands to buy farm machinery in return for the captured boys – tractors for boys!
The reasons are manifold. JFK was receiving contradictory advice from his Cabinet and advisers. He feared the possible reaction from the Russians, and also did not want to be responsible for triggering a war. It is believed that he had given permission for the CIA to conduct a covert operation to “take out” Fidel Castro, and prevent the Soviets from establishing a serious sphere of influence or military base so close to America.
JFK and Jackie came to a huge rally of Cuban Americans at the Orange Bowl in Florida to regain the confidence of Cuban exiles, and with resounding rhetoric he asked for a Cuban flag, promising “I want to return this flag to you in a free Cuba”. All the time knowing that he had negotiated with Nikita Khrushchev to dismantle Russian missile bases from Cuban soil, in return for the US promise never to invade, or facilitate an invasion of Cuba.
This is the reason why Cubans to this day, with some exceptions like Edmundo’s cousin Fausto, do not trust the Democrats.
As Edmundo adds sadly, “All the thousands of people who have lost their lives in Cuba under Castro, and the hundreds of thousands of lives of families disrupted . . . . . “ the trauma of these Cuban families here in Florida is truly starting to dawn on me.