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

He still yearns for a free Cuba

Erneido Oliva Bay of Pigs

Erniedo Oliva, surrounded by members of his family in a recent photo. From left, seated, Vladenka Rose Oliva, Antonio Oliva, Graciela Oliva, Erneido Oliva and Michael Hemker; standing from left, Kevin Hemker, Maria Oliva-Hemker, James Hemker. — Courtesy CAMCO.org

In addition to his CAMCO activities, Oliva also maintains what he describes as "a good relationship" with Cuban American members of Congress and with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. He endorsed McCain for president in 2000 and 2008.

Oliva doesn't hide his disdain for U.S. officials who consider the Cuban exile community "too emotionally involved," as he put it, to be part of any policy decisions.

"They are correct that my Cuban generation indeed has emotion. But this is the same type of emotion that we are seeing in the daily news today coming from the Middle East and other regions where people are now rebelling against oppressive or dictatorial regimes," Oliva wrote in his email exchange with the Bulletin.

"For me personally it's very difficult to accept that it's been 50 years since our defeat at the Bay of Pigs, and 52 years since the Castro brothers have been in power," he continued. "It is difficult to believe that during half of a century and going through 11 U.S. administrations since Fidel Castro overthrew [Fulgencio] Batista, we have gone halfway around the world — to Iraq, Afghanistan — to spread freedom and democracy while a small country remains enslaved only 90 miles from our shores."

Living a quiet family life

Today, Oliva lives a quiet life in suburban Baltimore with his wife of 52 years, Graciela Ana, whom he describes as "the pillar of the family" and his "closest friend and wisest adviser." They have two children and two grandchildren, and Oliva said he's grateful and proud of what his family has been able to achieve "in this wonderful country."

His daughter, Maria, who was born in Cuba, is chief of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. She and her husband, Kevin Hemker, who chairs the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Hopkins, have two sons, James Andrus, 11, and Michael Jose, 7. The Olivas' son, Antonio, is an aeronautical engineer who did some work on the space station. He lives in Houston with his wife, Vladenka Rose, a technical writer and editor.

When he's not working on the struggle for a free Cuba, or following the Orioles and the Baltimore Ravens, Oliva said, he's "busy making the last touches to my memoirs." He's turned down several book contracts because the ending — his possible return one day to Cuba — hasn't been written yet.

"I never considered that it was the right time," he said. "I can only hope the right time will come."

Greg McDonald is a freelance writer living in Warrenton, Va.

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