Brigade ousts 2 for trip to Cuba
Taunts, threats made; no one hurt
BY LUISA YANEZ
Veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion brigade on Sunday expelled two of their members for attending a conference last month in Cuba on the ill-fated mission.
At an emotionally charged meeting at the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association headquarters in Little Havana, one of , those who had attended the conference, Mario Cabello, 58, had to be hustled out of the building for his own safety,
As Cabello left, many of the 200 members in attendance shouted: "Traitor!'' "Scoundrel!'' Some tried to physically block his exit.
No blows were thrown and no one was injured. But the incident highlighted the lingering passions in the Cuban-American community where many are still opposed to any efforts to improve relations with Fidel Castro's government. Any contact with Cuba is viewed by many as a treasonous act.
Minutes after Cabello was led out, the association's general assembly voted unanimously to expel him and Jorge Luis Hernández, 64.
"It's ironic that 40 years ago when I was captured by Cuban soldiers, I was called a traitor and today, 40 years later, I'm being called a traitor by my friends,'' said Cabello, a trucking company employee from Kendall.
Hernández could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Before the vote, Juan Pérez Franco, president of the group, also known as Brigade 2506, listed the alleged offenses committed by the two ousted members.
Cabello and Hernández were accused of defying the association's policy of no dealings with Cuba by attending the three-day Havana conference. Their most grievous offense: fraternizing with Castro, who helped host the event.
Three other veterans -- Alfredo Durán, Luis Tornes and Roberto Carballo -- also attended the conference, but they were expelled years ago for advocating a thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba.
"All these men have betrayed the principles of the brigade; they have betrayed the martyrs of the invasion, and they have betrayed their homeland,'' Pérez Franco told the members, who were part of the CIA-backed mission in April 1961 that led to the deaths of 114 men and the capture and imprisonment of another 1,189. Cabello and Hernández were part of the invasion.
BADGE OF HONOR
The Bay of Pigs proved to be the final massive effort to overthrow Castro. Today, being a brigadista is a badge of honor in Miami's exile community.
Before being stripped of his membership, Cabello told the crowd he felt duty-bound to return to the island for the conference to explain to Cubans there what motivated him, at age 18, to participate in the invasion.
At first the crowd listened politely.
"I wanted to let the Cuban people know that we were not mercenaries, that we believed in the right of freedom of expression,'' Cabello said.
But Pérez Franco challenged Cabello, saying the visiting brigadistas were quoted in Granma, the island nation's official newspaper, offering an olive branch to their former adversaries. One member even sounded remorseful about participating in the assault, he said.
The three-day conference was attended by the five exiles, a former
assistant to President John F. Kennedy, his sister Jean Kennedy Smith and
retired Cuban military
On Sunday, Cabello had a few supporters in the crowd. Edwin Phillips González, another brigadista, opposed expelling him -- but didn't vote.
``Mario has a right to express his point of view, and I'm still his friend,'' he said.
Others felt strongly that Cabello should be ousted. In the parking lot, Cabello was confronted by fellow members, many now foes.
Tearful brigade member Rodolfo Llorente came up to Cabello and hugged him.
``I wish you well, Mario, but this is the last time you and I will ever speak.''
The two men broke their embrace. Cabello turned and walked away -- alone.
``If being a member of this organization means I can't express my opinion, then I don't want to be a member,'' Cabello said.
``I'm a free man.''