Monday, February 26, 2007

Bay of Pigs veterans to sue Castro

Monday, February 26, 2007
Bay of Pigs veterans to sue Castro

MIAMI -- It was 46 years ago, but the survivors remember all the
gruesome details of their ride inside a sealed semi-trailer following
the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

Urine and excrement sloshed on the floor, and men and boys -- more than
100 men captured by Cuban militia -- took turns breathing fresh air out
of a small hole someone punched into the truck's side.

When the truck stopped eight hours later in Havana, nine of the men
inside were dead.

Monday, Miami-based survivors of the invasion plan to file a lawsuit
against Cuban military commander Osmany Cienfuegos, who they say gave
the order to pack the men into the truck -- and Fidel Castro.

"We believe we have enough proof that the crime was committed by these
two individuals," said Juan R. Lopez de la Cruz, a retired U.S. Army
colonel and Bay of Pigs veteran who lives in Miami.

Lopez de la Cruz spoke to The Miami Herald on Sunday from Madrid, where
the group is planning to file the lawsuit Monday morning.

The invasion veterans want their case heard in a Spanish court, which
has asserted jurisdiction for human-rights abuses in countries around
the world. A similar court indicted former Chilean dictator Augusto

"We hope the Spanish courts will listen and will recognize that this is
a very clear-cut case," Lopez de la Cruz said. "Hopefully, the men
responsible will receive the justice we are asking for."

The group wants the court to hold Castro and Cienfuegos responsible for
the deaths of those nine prisoners of war.

Because he has ceded head-of-state powers to his brother Raul, Castro
may no longer be immune to charges from the lawsuit, the group said.
Cienfuegos, who is in his 70s, is a member of Raul Castro's inner circle.

People who witnessed the truck ride claim they heard a Cuban officer
warn Cienfuegos the truck was overloaded and had no air.

"Let them die. I don't care," they remember Cienfuegos saying as he
ordered the officer to shut the doors.

The truck ride happened days after the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion,
the U.S. government's failed plan to overthrow Castro. Lopez de la Cruz
and others were captured near Giron Beach and were brought together to
be taken to Havana.

They were packed into a trailer normally used to transport tobacco
leaves, so it sealed in moisture and kept out fresh air.

Soon into the trip, condensation from the men's sweat accumulated on the
truck's ceiling and dripped down on them.

When the truck stopped in Havana and unloaded the men into a stadium,
Castro was there, witnesses said, and he saw the condition the group was
in. Most of the men were sent to Cuban prisons but were released about
18 months later as part of a deal between the United States and Cuba.

"I'm thrilled it has progressed to this point," said William Muir, 63, a
Kendall, Fla., resident who was with Lopez de la Cruz and dozens of
others inside the semi-trailer in April 1961. "We're very optimistic
about everything that is happening."
This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page A1.

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