A Darker Look at Che's Revolution

After Guevara destroyed his family and his fortune, Gustavo Villoldo hunted the revolutionary leader to his grave.

Others dispute his role. José Garcia, another volunteer, says only, "Gustavo abandoned all of us," before hanging up the phone.

"It was a successful mission in every respect," Gustavo counters. "Especially in the sense that it was funded, planned and executed completely by Cubans."

A follow-up, larger invasion never happened. Gustavo blames political divisions in the exile community, "like those demonstrated by José [Garcia]."

Members of the Bolivian military display the body of Che Guevara — proof that he was dead.
Members of the Bolivian military display the body of Che Guevara — proof that he was dead.
Gustavo and Alfredo Villoldo walk out of court after the historic judgment.
Luisa Yanez
Gustavo and Alfredo Villoldo walk out of court after the historic judgment.

Gustavo claims that after Boca de Sama, he continued to work with the CIA around Latin America and the Caribbean through the '70s and '80s. But he declines to give details.

It's clearer that he established construction, development, fishing, farming and banking businesses in Miami. He even imported spiny lobster from the Bahamas. The Florida Division of Corporations lists Gustavo Villoldo as the registered owner of 21 firms. And he was named in 19 civil lawsuits between 1973 and 1999 related to his business ventures. Records of virtually all of them have been destroyed. "Every businessman has problems," he says. "I am no different."

Gustavo also established himself in Alaska, where he traveled on a CIA operation he won't discuss and fell in love with the rugged landscape. He started a fishing venture and began buying land on Amook Island, a remote spit of land in the Bering Sea. He owns around 300 acres worth about $150,000, according to Alaska property records.

As his businesses flourished, Gustavo's personal life suffered. All the years he threw himself into his fight against Castro left him distant from Elia and their kids. He has built a hard shell around this part of his life. "My commitment to bringing down Castro was certainly a factor," Gustavo concedes. "But people also change. I changed a lot through all those years fighting."

In 1977, the strain was too much. Elia filed for divorce in the Dominican Republic, where Gustavo had temporarily relocated the family while pursuing a business venture. He remarried two years later, to a woman named Maria. They had one son, Rafael, but that marriage also fell apart under the strain of a life at war. They divorced in 1983.

Court records of the divorces contain no indication of the reason for the breakups.

"I would say he was a good father to me," Rafael Villoldo says. "He cared passionately about what he did, and he taught us to do the same with our lives."

Gustavo withdrew from public life. He says he feared retribution over his CIA work, but all the personal tumult might have been a factor as well. In the mid '80s, he bought a mango grove in deep South Miami-Dade County and lived at the unlisted address. It was accessible only through winding dirt roads. He kept his phone number unpublished.

He left the CIA for good in 1988. The agency doesn't discuss former operatives, so the period of his service is difficult to verify. In 1990, he wedded a woman named Patricia, to whom he's still married.

Even as a gentleman mango farmer, he didn't give up his struggle. In 1998, after a Spanish judge arrested former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Gustavo collected signatures to mount similar charges against Castro.

The effort failed. But it spurred Gustavo to think of the U.S. justice system as another weapon.

Last year Gustavo sold his grove, and today he lives quietly in a new orange townhouse in West Kendall. Three blocks west of his home, the pavement ends and the waterlogged Everglades stretches off to the horizon. He's still not listed in the phone book or property records. Six months of the year, he fishes and hunts on Amook Island, where his nearest neighbor is more than 100 miles away by seaplane.

The mementos of a lifetime of struggle hang on the walls of his home: a framed display of yellowed photos from the invasion of Boca de Sama; a faded red and black "26 de Julio" armband, taken from a Cuban prisoner; an oil painting of his last flight with Sig Seigrist over the Bay of Pigs.

Gustavo walks slowly around the house, staring through watery eyes at the memories.

He pulls out a manila file folder. Inside are some court documents. They're less impressive than the keepsakes from the Bay of Pigs — but they're evidence of a much more successful operation.

"This is my fight for justice, for my father," he says.

Gustavo's legal battle traces back to 1959, when Castro seized businesses and bank accounts from thousands of Cubans. In response, President Eisenhower froze all Cuban funds and created a commission to sort through exiles' claims. It certified 5,911 of them — worth $1.85 billion at the time. But those first efforts were stuck in limbo until 1996, when Congress passed a law in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombings. It allowed suits against foreign governments for terrorist attacks.

Miami's exiles jumped on the law. The families of pilots who flew for Brothers to the Rescue, which used small planes to save Cuban rafters, sued after Cuban MiGs shot down two planes and killed four pilots. They won $187.6 million in 2001.

Two years ago, Gustavo began totaling his family's holdings at the time of the revolution. The GM dealerships' repairs and parts sales totaled about $20 million in 1958. A trading company earned about $411,000. The Villoldoses's various properties — the three homes, 30,000-acre ranch and 113-unit apartment building — were worth close to $100 million.

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