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Where Are They Now?

Gen. Erneido Oliva: Second in Command at the Bay of Pigs

He still yearns for a free Cuba

Three months later, Oliva was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and began work on the secret operations as a liaison to then-Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance and his aide, Lt. Col. Alexander Haig, each of whom would later become secretary of state. His new assignment didn't last long, however. On Jan. 14, 1964, Oliva said, he was summoned to the White House, where President Lyndon Johnson personally informed him that he was scrapping operations directed at Cuba.

He said Johnson told him "the moment was not appropriate for any activity against Fidel Castro." At the time, more and more U.S. intelligence and military resources were being shifted to Vietnam.

A U.S. Army career

After that, Oliva settled into the U.S. Army. He became a company commander with the 82nd Airborne Division before retiring from active duty in 1967. A few years later, he joined the Army Reserves and rose to brigadier general. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to deputy commander of the District of Columbia National Guard, a position he held until his final retirement from the military in 1993 with the rank of major general. Along the way, he became a U.S. citizen in 1970 and worked for a brief time as a staff member for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., on the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration and refugees. In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed Oliva to a three-year term on the USO Board of Governors.

Oliva is still confident a free Cuba will happen in his lifetime. He doesn't believe Castro can hold out much longer. If death doesn't get the dictator first, then "disintegrating" economic and social conditions in Cuba will, he said. He predicted a backlash against Castro and his brother, Raul, the current president of Cuba, similar to the recent upheavals in the Middle East.

Oliva's main focus, however, is on achieving a peaceful solution. That goal was part of his mission statement in 1996 when he founded the Cuban-American Military Council (CAMCO). The organization's efforts, he said, are aimed at establishing direct ties to members of Castro's military and reassuring them that the Cuban American community has no interest in fighting them or seeking vengeance for the last 52 years since Castro took power.

"There is no war in our repertoire," Oliva said, stressing the importance of the military being seen as an ally and friend of the Cuban people, not a threat, when the regime crumbles.

An Egyptian model for Cuba

"Egypt is an example of what may happen in Cuba," he added, noting how the Egyptian military assumed a nonthreatening neutral role that helped keep down violence in the recent revolution there.

Next: His 'closest friend and wisest adviser.' >>

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