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Revelation 19.63

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That afternoon the Evening Star in Washington hit the newsstands with a disturbing front-page headline: "Exiles Tell of Missiles Hidden in Cuba Caves." The Star's scoop, which alleged the existence of seven previously unidentified and camouflaged missile sites around the island, was based on information provided by the Revolutionary Student Directorate.

At the time the DRE was the single most popular exile group in Miami, according to a CIA survey, with a hard-core following of 2200 supporters. Since the group's founding on the University of Havana campus in early 1960, it had been receiving funding, training, and logistical support for its leaders, thanks to a CIA officer named David Atlee Phillips, known for his role in the 1954 overthrow of a leftist government in Guatemala. By the time of the missile crisis, the agency was giving the group's young leaders in Miami $25,000 each month.

The CIA wanted the DRE "for one simple reason," recalls Luis Fernandez-Rocha, the Directorate's secretary-general at the time and a 23-year-old who had been expelled from medical school at the University of Havana. "We had the best organization in Latin America they had ever seen."

Fernandez-Rocha's boast is not idle. In the early Sixties, the DRE was at the cutting edge of the Cuban resistance movement. Founded by Alberto Muller, Ernesto Travieso, and Juan Manuel Salvat, the Directorate was born during a march protesting the visit to Havana of Soviet envoy Anastas Mikoyan in February 1960. When pro-Castro forces greeted the young Cuban democrats with lead pipes and flying fists, Muller and Co. decided to take up arms against Castro's proletarian dictatorship. They went to Miami, where it was safer to plan their activities and stockpile the equipment necessary for military action. In the fall of 1960 the group returned to the island and organized boycotts at colleges and high schools in the capital. When Castro spoke at the University of Havana, DRE members set off more than 100 bombs at the fringes of the crowd.

While the CIA trained an exile army in Guatemala for an island invasion in the spring of 1961, agency officials informed the DRE and other groups inside Cuba that something big would soon take place, but, citing security concerns, the officials refused to announce when and where the attack would occur. Salvat organized a network of active supporters among Catholic and middle-class students throughout Cuba. Muller built a nucleus of guajiro allies in the Escambray Mountains. Then without warning came the April 17 invasion at the Bay of Pigs. Before the DRE could mobilize, the invaders were trounced and Castro cracked down on his foes. Salvat eluded capture, but scores of DRE sympathizers wound up in prison. In a blow to the DRE, cofounder Muller was among those caught and imprisoned. Others took refuge in the packed embassies of sympathetic Latin-American nations.

As the Directorate's leaders straggled back to Miami, they embodied the bitter mood that enveloped the city in 1961. But with assistance from David Atlee Phillips and the CIA, Salvat, Fernandez-Rocha, and engineer Isidro "Chilo" Borja revived the DRE.

In the summer of 1962, Fernandez-Rocha sneaked back into Cuba and spent several dangerous months trying to shore up the group's clandestine network. With continuous funding from the U.S. government, the DRE headquarters in Miami was able to send delegates to international conferences in Vienna and Helsinki. The group published a newspaper, Trinchera (Trenches), and an English-language newsletter, the Cuban Report, which often was cited by New York Sen. Kenneth Keating, a leading Republican critic of JFK's Cuba policy. Additional DRE chapters sprang up in cities throughout North and South America.

To announce the revival of the Directorate, the group's military section launched its most spectacular deed on the evening of August 24, 1962. Under the leadership of Salvat and Borja, two boats of DRE militants carried out a midnight fusillade attack on the Rosita Hornedo hotel in suburban Miramar, where Castro's Soviet-bloc advisors were gathering. (The man who fired the 20mm cannon was José Basulto, now famous as founder of Brothers to the Rescue.)

Meanwhile the Cuban Report was publishing information provided by Luis Fernandez-Rocha from inside Cuba that the Soviet Union was installing large ballistic missiles on the island. The Kennedy White House dismissed such claims as exile exaggeration, but within weeks aerial-reconnaissance photos confirmed the reports. The missile crisis ensued.

When that confrontation ended peacefully that fall -- but with Castro still in power -- the DRE again sought to force the United States to confront Cuba. On November 12, just six days after the Star story broke, Fernandez-Rocha appeared on The Today Show and repeated the details, claiming that nuclear missiles had been stashed in caves in the Yumuri valley in Matanzas, in the hills of Camagüey, and in Hershey in Havana province -- and that he had seen the sites with his own eyes.

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Jefferson Morley