Cuban exile, 66, plotting the unfinished battle

August 31, 1994|By Orlando Sentinel

CLERMONT, Fla. -- For 33 years, Jose Miro Torra has been haunted by the unfinished battle.

The retired, 66-year-old Cuban exile stormed the beaches of his homeland on April 17, 1961, as part of the aborted Bay of Pigs invasion. He spent 22 months in a Cuban prison, a memory he sums up with one sentence: "Do you like macaroni?"

After 29 years as an insurance salesman and lawyer in Puerto Rico, Mr. Torra returned to Florida in January with a goal: to organize another invasion.

Yesterday, the newly elected president of the 1,098-member 2506 Brigade Bay of Pigs Veterans Association spoke from a small upstairs office in a sign shop in the foothills of Lake County, where he came to recruit a new, younger soldier.

"We're telling the United States 'Please close your eyes,' " Mr. Torra said. "We'll supply the people willing to die."

Mr. Torra turns and smiles at Carlos Solis, the 39-year-old shop owner. Mr. Torra and other Bay of Pigs veterans are looking to Cuban-Americans like Mr. Solis -- who was 6 years old during the invasion -- to take up the fight.

The exodus has boosted recruitment in Miami's Cuban community.

Also, reports from Cuba suggest President Fidel Castro's grip is weak. The brigade again waits for the revolution to begin in the streets of Havana. This time, they want to be ready, poised to send reinforcements to finish a fight they have been preparing 33 years to restart.

"It's something we have to do," Mr. Solis said, looking back at Mr. Torra. "But it is their glory."

Mr. Torra counts 60 new members in his recruiting drive, which began this week and, for the first time in the organization's history, is admitting nonveterans. He is hoping to coordinate more soldiers from other Cuban organizations throughout Florida. He believes he's not alone in loathing the sight of Cuban brethren arriving on rickety rafts.

Mr. Solis spent his life listening to his late uncle, who fought alongside Mr. Torra, recount the botched invasion. Cuban exiles such as Juan Torres and Jorge Marquet talk about the bare cargo ships with the squeaky engines that telegraphed the exiled army's arrival at the Bay of Pigs.

"The Castro regime was waiting," said Mr. Marquet, a 64-year-old retired airline worker who is accompanying Mr. Torra on his recruiting drive.

Mr. Torra cuts off talk about the glory days.

"None of that is important now," Mr. Torra said. "Before, prisoners didn't eat. Now, no one eats. The prison was only 22 months. There have been people who have been there for 25 years."

On Monday, Mr. Torra wrote a letter to President Clinton, asking him to maintain the United States' embargo against Cuba. Mr. Torra and his group also protest Mr. Clinton's intentions to renew dialogue tomorrow with the Castro regime over immigration issues.

They remember the promise of air support from President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and how the aid never arrived. They still talk about seeing the American ships and flyers waiting off the Cuban shores as the CIA-backed battle raged.

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