Castro foe reunited with kin
Jailed 25 years since Bay of Pigs
By LOURDES MELUZA
Herald Staff Writer
Thin, graying and serene, an army officer who spent 25 years in Cuban prisons following the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion met freedom, family and friends in South Florida Sunday.
Hours after he was released from prison, Ricardo Montero Duque, 60, arrived at Homestead Air Force Base, where he was greeted by his 82-year-old mother, his father and two brothers.
"I'm delighted to see my family; I had not seen them in so many years," said Montero Duque, a former commander of the Brigade 2506 Fifth Battalion.
"I'm in a cloud."
So was his father, Ricardo Montero, 84. Two of his sons joined the ill-fated invasion forces, but one remained in a Cuban prison.
"Imagine what I suffered for 25 years," Ricardo Montero said.
Montero Duque's wife, Esther, was ill and could not travel from New Jersey to greet her husband.
"She has always been waiting for him. They've lived like Romeo and Juliet," said Bernardina Priscilla Duque, the former prisoner's mother.
Montero Duque is the first prisoner Fidel Castro has released to the United States since Cuba suspended the immigration and refugee agreement late in 1984.
A career military officer, Montero Duque fought Castro's guerrillas for 25 months in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra. In exile, he joined the CIA-backed invasion planned under the administration of President Kennedy.
It was Kennedy's brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, who for 16 months negotiated the release of Montero Duque, after Bay of Pigs veteran and former Miami mayoral candidate Raul Masvidal brought Montero Duque's case to his attention.
The administration has supported Kennedy's effort all along, said Kenneth Skoug, director of the State Department's Cuban Affairs Office.
Skoug was one of those who greeted the Bay of Pigs veteran as he left the plane, together with Dade Republican Party Chairman Jeb Bush, former political prisoner Andres Vargas Gomez and Bay of Pigs veteran Francisco Hernandez.
Montero Duque was one of 1,189 Brigade 2506 soldiers captured in 1961. Castro agreed to release all but nine of them a year later, when the United States ransomed the prisoners for $53 million in food and medicine.
Montero Duque was sentenced to 30 years.
Of the other eight, one died in prison, six were later freed and Ramon Conte Hernandez remains in prison.
"I have felt emotion, I have felt anxiety I have felt like the school graduate who wants to start working but feels nostalgia of what he leaves behind," said Montero Duque, who served time in several prisons.
"I've left a brigade friend in prison and all my friends in the same struggle. I can't stop thinking about them."
Kennedy, who now is negotiating Conte's release, talked from his home in Massachusetts to Montero Duque.
"I welcome you to freedom," Kennedy said, moments after a Cessna chartered by Kennedy's office landed at the Air Force base.
"I thanked him for everything he did for me," Montero Duque said later. "Kennedy then invited me to meet with him next week in Washington."
Gregory Craig, Kennedy's foreign policy adviser, flew to Cuba, where he met with Cuban officials and negotiated Montero Duque's final release.
"I stressed to the Cuban officials during my meetings there that the most important thing that the government of Cuba could do at this time would be to restore the immigration, and refugee agreement that was suspended in December 1984," Craig said.
The Cuban government suspended that agreement in retaliation for the first broadcast to Cuba of U.S.-financed Radio Marti. It has been Cuba's position to uphold the suspension as long as Radio Marti continues operating.
Craig said he had told Cuban officials that the Radio Marti program would not be canceled and that it had both the administration's and Sen. Kennedy's support.
Craig met with Montero Duque Thursday in Havana's Combinado del Este prison. Montero Duque had been through a series of physical exams and he had been taken out into the sunlight to improve his skin color, Craig said.
But neither the long years in prison nor his sudden release has apparently
changed Montero Duque's mind about Castro, his old-time foe.