The Associated Press
April 16, 2001

US - Cuba Relations Still a Hot Debate


              Filed at 9:04 a.m. ET

              WASHINGTON (AP) -- Forty years ago, Mario Cabello and Juan Perez Franco
              were comrades in arms, fighting together at the Bay of Pigs to free Cuba from Fidel
              Castro's communist grip.

              Today, the two veterans of the failed invasion are barely speaking.

              Their quarrel personifies current debate about the future relationship between the
              United States and the island nation 100 miles off the Florida coast.

              Like President Bush, Franco wants the United States to continue its hardline stance
              against Castro. Cabello thinks it's time to thaw relations.

              Their falling out occurred on April 8 at a meeting of the Bay of Pigs Veterans
              Association in Miami's Little Havana. To shouts of ``scoundrel'' and ``traitor,''
              Cabello and another member were booted out of the association for attending a
              conference in Cuba marking the 40th anniversary of the failed invasion in the early
              months of John F. Kennedy's presidency.

              ``It's like I've been excommunicated from the church,'' says Cabello, who works for
              a Miami-area trucking company. ``It saddened me -- the reaction of my friends.

              ``I exercised my freedom of travel, my freedom of expression in going to Cuba.
              How can they reconcile that they went to the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to fight for
              freedom and then now are trying to muzzle me?''

              Castro, the charismatic Cuban leader who turns 75 in August, also attended the
              conference, which was jointly sponsored by the private, Washington-based National
              Security Archive, which works to declassify national security documents, and the
              University of Havana.

              For Franco, president of the association known as Brigade 2506, that amounts to
              fraternizing with the enemy.

              ``For us, this 40th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs is one more reason to reaffirm our
              uncompromising position not to have dialogue'' with the Castro government, he says.

              The three-day Bay of Pigs invasion at a swampy, mosquito-infested part of Cuba's
              southern coast was doomed from the start.

              Trained by the CIA in Guatemala, Brigade 2506 comprised about 1,500 Cuban
              exiles who badly wanted to overthrow Castro's government. Kennedy's refusal to
              provide sufficient air cover for the invaders left them vulnerable to air attacks from
              Castro's military. At the end, more than 1,000 had been captured and imprisoned.
              One hundred of the invaders and 150 of Castro's defenders were killed.

              On April 15, two days before the brigade went ashore, B-26 bombers left
              Nicaragua for Cuba to destroy Castro's air force. Only partly successful, the
              bombing put Castro on alert for the invasion that was to follow. A second airstrike
              to destroy the rest of Castro's planes was scrapped.

              Thus, when the brigade landed on the beaches on April 17, Cuba still had the air
              power to thwart it.

              Washington soon received news that two ships had been sunk and a third was under
              heavy attack. Later that day, the CIA reported that two other ships were under
              heavy attack. On the ships were the ammunition and supplies the Cuban brigade
              desperately needed to fulfill their mission.

              Cabello was on one ship, the Houston.

              ``The ship caught fire and because the hoses were full of holes, we couldn't put out
              the fire,'' he recalled. ``We feared the ship was going to explode at any moment.
              Then the rocket hit us on the side. It sank us slowly, but at the same time, put out
              the fire, and that saved us.''

              Cabello swam to shore.

              On April 18, the members of the brigade were pleading for air cover and supplies
              that never came.

              Back at the White House, in the early hours of April 19, Kennedy met with his
              advisers. Six unmarked jet fighters were sent to provide enough air cover to let the
              invaders fly in their supplies. But there was a mix-up over the one-hour time
              difference between Cuba and Nicaragua. By the time the jets arrived, Castro's force
              had driven off the invaders' attack.

              The invasion had failed. Covert attempts to assassinate Castro followed. So did the
              showdown the following year between the United States and Cuba over Soviet
              missiles being deployed on the island.

              The missiles were removed. Castro lives on.

              Despite some easing of charter flights and narrow openings to allow U.S. sales of
              food and medicine, U.S. policy toward Cuba remains much as it was during the
              Cold War. The 40-year-old U.S. trade embargo continues. Despite a growing
              movement in Congress to soften relations, Bush says he has no intention of lifting the

              ``Capital that goes into Cuba will be used by the Fidel Castro government to prop
              itself up,'' Bush said. ``It's in our best interest to keep the pressure on Fidel Castro,
              until he allows free elections, free press and frees the (political) prisoners on that

              Cabello, who was ousted from the Bay of Pigs veterans group, says it's time to
              diminish rhetoric on both sides. But for Franco, time has changed nothing. At 72, he
              wishes he could go back to the Bay of Pigs and try -- one more time -- to oust