Miami

SoCal Cuban Helped Lead Attempt to Overthrow Castro

Del Aire resident Fernando Marquet looks at the latest happenings between the U.S. government and Cuba in a way very few living people can. He's 72 years old now, but for the last 50 he hasn't stepped foot on his homeland.

"I haven't visited my country, but I feel for it every day," he said. "I feel for my people."

Marquet was 15 years old when Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in January of 1958. By 1961, he was an exile in Miami and signing up to join a fight that was supposed to take back the island.

"We thought that that was the right thing to do," he said. "That it was a cause worth fighting for and a cause worth dying for."

The "cause" became known as the Bay of Pigs invasion, an American CIA-backed operation that in the end, gave Castro a victory. 1,400 men had signed up for what became known as Brigade 2506. They trained in the hills of Guatemala for a month and on April 17, 1961, they made landfall on the Caribbean island of Cuba.

But before the fighting even started, Marquet says many of them knew it would be a death sentence for some. U.S. President John F Kennedy had decided to pull his support of the operation. A U.S. naval fleet helped get the Brigade to the island but stopped short of helping in the fight.

"That was tough seeing," Marquet said. "To watch very clearly, the destroyers and the ships and the carriers right there, watching the whole show unfold. And then just turn around."

More than 100 men died, the rest were taken prisoner by the Cuban government. Marquet says he was with a group that tried to survive for three days in the swamps before they were surrounded and forced to surrender.

Marquet served two years in a Cuban prison, a "dungeon" as he puts it.

"It was very, very tough for me to handle," he said.

There were no showers and prisons had to ration food between them. For the first three days, Marquet says he refused the unknown meat prison guards had offered.

"Then an old timer said, 'you have to eat. It takes delicious. If you want to get out of hear you have to eat it," he said. "So I got a taste for that junk."

Marquet says he saw the defeat as betrayal from President Kennedy.

"He handed Castro, on a silver platter, the famous victory of the Cuban Revolution against the Imperialists," he said, adding that President Obama is betraying the Cuban people now with the announcement to restore diplomatic relations with the country.

"I know the Cuban people now feel that this is their chance," he said. "Putting their hopes not on the Cuban government, but on the American government. But I think as long as the Castros are in power, there won't be any change."

Because of the strained US-Cuba relations in the 60s, Marquet says a third party helped negotiate the deal that got him and his comrades released. On Christmas Eve in 1962, they all arrived to Miami, Florida. Marquet, though, says he immediately moved to LA because he says the Beach Boys and beautiful women made it seem like paradise; he's lived here ever since.

For his part in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Marquet says he can never return to Cuba, or he says he could face 30 years in prison for having fought against the government. For now, he says he relies on what happens every evening in his Del Aire home, the moment things slow down for the night and he closes his eyes.

"I go back every night in my dreams," he said. "I dream of my days in Cuba, a very simple life. Flying kites, going to school, riding bikes, the beach, playing baseball. I dream of those days and I miss it dearly."

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