By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
The small group talked a Cuban banker into lending them a Piper Apache for bombing runs over the island. Then they built homemade explosives.
Police arrested them before they could make a single run. As the men awaited trial, CIA operatives asked if they wanted to train for a covert invasion of their homeland.
Charges were dropped and they all signed up.
"I hated the men who had killed my father," Gustavo says. "I didn't care about democracy because it didn't really mean anything to me at that point. It wasn't about politics. It was personal."
In February 1960, a few months after Gustavo left Cuba, his brother Alfredo fled to Miami. Gustavo's wife, Elia — along with the couple's three young children, Gustavo Alfredo, Eduardo, and Elia Mercedes — also made her way to the Magic City.
It wasn't easy to fight a war and keep a family together. Gustavo leaned on Alfredo for help. "His family didn't know everything he was doing, but I always did," Alfredo says. "His wife did know the Bay of Pigs would be a huge risk, but Gustavo trusted me to watch over his family if he was killed."
Gustavo was a natural for the senior ranks of Brigade 2506, as the exile invasion force called itself. When the fighters relocated to Guatemala and then a U.S. base in Nicaragua for the final stages, Gustavo became the force's head of security.
He was supremely confident of victory. In early 1961, he even allowed Elia and their three children to move back to Havana. "I was stupid and blind," Gustavo says. "I wanted them to be in Cuba when we liberated the country. It was all I could think about."
By April 15, 1961, the planned first day of the offensive on Cuba, the fighters began to realize President Kennedy had lost his nerve. But they went ahead anyway. At first, Gustavo stayed in Nicaragua. Three days later, a call went out for volunteers. Air crews were exhausted. "They'd already been giving us speed to keep us going," Miralles remembers. "We were totally drained."
American pilots were ready to fly, the officer told them, but each plane needed a Cuban copilot.
Six hours later, Gustavo found himself strapped next to Sig, flying toward an uncertain landing with live napalm dangling from his wing. He didn't regret volunteering for the mission. But he already felt bitter at Kennedy's betrayal. Good men were dying.
As Sig circled the runway, Gustavo could almost feel the napalm exploding and burning away his flesh. When the wheels touched down, the loose bomb dragged on the tarmac, kicking up sparks.
But it didn't blow. Afterward, Gustavo sat on the jungle runway and cried — for the invasion gone wrong, for his homeland, for his family trapped in Havana and for his father.
Gustavo was ready to give up the fight. He flew once more with Sig, on the last aerial mission of the invasion, called the "Lobo Flight," which annihilated a column of Castro's army. Then he spent two weeks at the Nicaraguan base, nicknamed "Happy Valley," preparing to return home to Miami.
Before he could leave, a CIA officer approached him with an offer: Work for the agency and keep fighting. In exchange, his wife and children would be smuggled from Havana.
He agreed. "I thought it could be a jumping-off point to what I wanted to accomplish," Gustavo says. After earning a commission as an Army second lieutenant, he officially joined the agency in 1964.
Meanwhile, his family flew to Miami with CIA assistance in the mid '60s and moved into a home in Hialeah. In the next few years, Gustavo and Elia had three more children: Ana Maria, Alejandro and Patricia. "It wasn't easy keeping a family together with a life like this," Gustavo says with dry understatement.
He declines to discuss much of his undercover work. He claims he successfully infiltrated Cuba between 30 and 40 times for the CIA — an account his former station chief, who recently died, confirmed to a Miami Herald reporter in 1997. Gustavo says he played a "significant role" in the Iran-Contra scandal. "I'm lucky I never got called to testify to Congress," he says.
One thing never changed, though. As Gustavo flitted from spying on leftists in Guatemala to rebels in Ecuador, he never forgot the role Che Guevara played in unraveling his family.
After the Cuban Revolution, Che was the public face of the revolt. Then, in 1965, Castro appointed his number two man to spread Marxist revolution around the developing world. Che vowed to create "a hundred Vietnams."
When the CIA learned the Cuban leader was assisting a Marxist revolution in the Congo, Gustavo quickly volunteered to track him. He spent three months in the equatorial backwater, listening to Guevara's radio messages and closing in on his position. But Che became ill and dispirited only a year into his conquest and then fled to Tanzania. "He got out of the Congo with pure luck," Gustavo scoffs.
Two years later, Che flew to Bolivia to try to inspire a peasant revolt. Gustavo followed, traveling from Miami to La Paz in August 1967. He was accompanied by Félix Rodríguez, another Bay of Pigs vet working for the CIA.