Tony Cuesta

Tony Cuesta

Antonio (Tony) Cuesta was born in Cuba in 1928. Cuesta was a successful businessman in Havana. He was opposed to the government of Fidel Castro and moved to the United States. He helped to establish two anti-Castro exile groups: Alpha 66 and Commandos Liberty. He worked closely with Eddie Bayo, who was later involved in Operation Tilt.

Cuesta carried out raids on Cuba and was involved in the sinking of the Russian merchantman Baku. His activities were reported in Life Magazine in the spring of 1963 by his close friend, Tom Dunkin.

Cuesta was captured during a mission at Monte Barreto in the Miramar district of Cuba on 29th May, 1966. A member of his team, Herminio Diaz Garcia, was killed during the raid. Cuesta, who always vowed that Castro would never take him alive, attempted suicide by setting off a grenade, which blinded him and blew off his right hand. Cuesta spent a long time in hospital as a result of his serious injuries.

In 1978 President Jimmy Carter arranged for a group of imprisoned exiles to be released. This included Cuesta. Just before leaving Cuba Cuesta asked to see General Fabian Escalante, the head of Cuba's G-2 Spy Agency. Cuesta told Escalante that he had been involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He also named Herminio Diaz Garcia and Eladio del Valle as being involved in the conspiracy. Cuesta asked Escalante not to make this information "made public because I am returning to my family in Miami - and this could be very dangerous."

After leaving Cuba, Cuesta returned to Miami. It is believed that with the help of his friend, the journalist Tom Dunkin, Cuesta was working on his memoirs. Both Cuesta and Dunkin died in 1994. Gordon Winslow later recalled: "A month after his (Tom Dunkin) death in 1994, we were given access to his home where he worked. His files had been ransacked and most covered two to three inches on the living room floor. Luckily there were about ten boxes of salvageable records which included about 5,000 sleeves of negatives, around 300 cassettes, a few reels of movie film, numerous slides and a few photographs. Most of the negatives were made for local news stories but many also had been taken in the Cuban rebel area and later in the anti-Castro camps in South Florida."

In 1995 Wayne Smith, chief of the Centre for International Policy in Washington, arranged a meeting on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, in Nassau, Bahamas. Others in attendance were: Gaeton Fonzi, Dick Russell, Noel Twyman, Anthony Summers, Peter Dale Scott, Jeremy Gunn, John Judge, Andy Kolis, Peter Kornbluh, Mary and Ray LaFontaine, Jim Lesar, John Newman, Alan Rogers, Russ Swickard, Ed Sherry, and Gordon Winslow.

Some high-level Cuban officials attended the conference. This included Fabian Escalante, Carlos Lechuga, former Cuban diplomat, and Arturo Rodriguez, a State Security official. Escalante revealed details of Cuesta's confession. He also informed the group they had a spy in the anti-Castro community in Miami and knew about the plot to kill Kennedy.

Primary Sources

(1) Mary Louise Wilkinson, Miami News (16th March, 1966)

A Cuban exile organization here is talking of commando coordination to carry the freedom struggle to Fidel Castro's doorstep without violating U.S. neutrality laws.

The Cuban Representation in Exile (RECE), created through an exile referendum sponsored by rum manufacturer Jose Bosch, has spread the word it will listen to all liberation plans.

"We're aiming at coordinating men, money and equipment," said Ernesto Freyre, of RECE. "Political unity may by impossible but coordination of actions is perfectly feasible."

Freyre, former member of the Families Committee which aided in the 1962 ransoming of Bay of Pigs invasion prisoners, said future military operations would be carried out without involving U.S.-registered boats of U.S. departure points.

Early this month, the non-affiliated Second Front of the Escambray lost some $40,000 worth of arms and two U.S.-registered boats when they were stopped by the Coast Guard and Customs agents 42 miles off the Florida coast.

Last November, RECE teamed up with Commandos L and the 30th of November groups to machinegun a Havana waterfront police station and hotel. The raiders, who came from "somewhere in the Caribbean," were not stopped by U.S. authorities.

"Separate paths have led us nowhere," noted Tony Cuesta, of Commandos L which reportedly lost $57,000 worth of equipment to U.S. confiscation several years ago.

"What we need today is a common strategy and a system of operations that doesn't involve the United States," said Cuesta, whose newly reorganized group now works closely with RECE.

Today, the commando group has on its directive board Jose I. Rivero, former owner of the Diario de la Marina newspaper, and Dr. Jose Alvarez Diaz, exile economist whose studies have been published by the University of Miami.

Commandos L is seeking to raise money by issuing "liberation bonds" picturing frogmen loading arms cases onto rubber rafts. RECE itself maintains a large mailing list of contributors here and abroad who send in monthly donations of a dollar or more.

The commando group, with offices in New York, Washington, Puerto Rico and here, claims to have consulted American and Cuban exile lawyers to make sure future operations in no way violate the U.S. ban on Cuban raids.

"We seek to nationalize the Cuban problem by removing it from the international orbit," said Cuesta. "No attacks on Russian shipping, no leaving from U.S. bases in American-register craft - just Cubans helping Cubans."

Freyre added: "If a group has a plan and needs money, RECE wants to talk it over with them. So far, four action groups are coordinating activities through us. And we expect more."

Both RECE and Commandos L spokesman said plans would concentrate on providing money and arms for fighters on the island, rather than "hit-and-run raids from Florida ports."

(2) Mary Louise Wilkinson, Miami News (31st May, 1966)

Two Miami exiles who were killed after landing near a heavily populated Havana suburb were on a mission to assassinate Fidel Castro, the Cuban government claimed today.

The incident occurred late Sunday near the Comodoro Yacht Club in suburban Miramar, when Commandos L, a Miami-based action group, put Sandalio Herminio Diaz and Armando Romero ashore from a 23-foot boat, the Cuban communiqué said.

Tony Cuesta, 39 - year - old group leader, and Eugenio Zaldivar Xiques were captured after being seriously wounded in a gunfight 10 miles off the coast. Two other crewmen, listed only as "Guillermo" and "Roberto" (alias Cara Vieja), were missing - and presumed drowned.

In Miami, where Cuesta has lived since 1960, his wife said she had no further information about the fate of her husband.

"I hope and pray he is all right," said Mrs. Cuesta. "But regardless of what happens, we must continue the fight against Castro. I knew before he set out that the operation was risky."

According to the Cuban Interior Ministry communiqué Commandos L launched the infiltration attempt from Marathon. The Castro officials made their usual claim that the group was sponsored by the American government.

"The objective, according to the prisoners' confession, was to assassinate the prime minister in order to create conditions favorable for an imperialist aggression," the communiqué claimed.

Government-controlled newspapers in Havana carried pictures of material allegedly seized from the boat, including hand grenades, plastic explosives, submachine guns and anti-Castro leaflets.

The infiltration try came immediately after Castro announced an island-wide combat alert against "imperialist aggressors" following a series of incidents at the U. S. Naval Base at Guantanamo in which an armed Cuban soldier was shot and killed.

Last year, Commandos L teamed up with the Cuban Referendum in Exile (RECE), sponsored by rum millionaire Jose M. Bosch, to carry out a series of attacks against Cuba.

However, Ernesto Freyre, of RECE, denied knowledge of the Sunday raid, stating, "I am sorry but there is nothing I can say."

In November, the two groups joined with the 30th of November Movement here to strafe a police station on the Havana waterfront. Three years ago, Cuesta led a Commandos L raid against the Russian freighter Baku in a Cuban port which prompted a Soviet protest note to Washington.

Sunday's infiltration attempt came on the heels of a claim by the Second Front of the Escambray-Alpha 66 that they raided a naval past at Tarara Beach, same 20 miles east of Havana, on May 19 and slipped back to a "secret Caribbean base" without losing men or equipment.

Despite the latest failure, exile activists here appeared to intensify plans for future anti-Castro action.

Manuel Antonio de Varona, former Cuban prime minister and head of the Rescate movement, flew here from his exile home in New York to coordinate plans for an action group merger that reportedly included the Second Front.

Varona, who served briefly as head of the now-defunct Cuban Revolutionary Council, said, "We must not give Castro a breather. There should be well-coordinated actions from outside to encourage the people inside to work toward overthrow of the dictator."

(3) Tony Cuesta, account of his release from Cuba in 1978.

October 21, 1978. The chartered Eastern Airlines jet was scheduled to leave Havana at 2 pm for the flight to Miami, but, to my surprise, we did not head straight for the airport.

General Enio Leyva drove Eugenio Zaldivar and me through the Havana traffic. He was a surprisingly high-level escort for two men who had been languishing in prison for a dozen years.

I nudged Eugenio. "Tell me what you see," I whispered. "Tell me what streets we are driving through."

As Eugenio described the points of the passing landscape, I realized we were heading in the direction of the government offices. Why were they not taking us directly to the airport? I thought I knew the answer. There was someone who wanted to meet with me before I left Cuba. The same man who 12 years ago refused permission for the operation that probably would have saved my sight now wanted to see me–even though I couldn't see him.

"Let's stop a minute here. Let's walk a second," General Leyva said softly.

I was assisted out of the car. Holding my right hand against Eugenio's shoulder, using him as my eyes, I followed the general into an office building. When I felt the rara cool breeze of central air conditioning, I knew with certainty where we were. I knew who wanted to meet with me before I flew away to exile.

I nudged Eugenio, as if to say, "Just you wait." We were led to a comfortable room and seated on a deep-pile sofa. Someone thrust a huge cigar into my hand and lit it for me; someone else brought me a glass of scotch on the rocks. The treatment as well as the liquor was dizzying. I steeled myself.

Suddenly I heard General Leyva stand up quickly as someone entered the room. Instinctively, following the good manners taught to me by my parents, I stood also. General Leyva muttered the words, "El Comandante en jefe." Then I heard the voice of my enemy - not pouring forth the shrill, angry demagoguery for which he is infamous. He had engaged the charming, charismatic side of his personality. He spoke in a low, soft, sweet, gentle tone. If he had not chosen politics, he could have been a hit on Broadway, capitalizing upon his melodious voice.

Now I was forced by circumstances to shake the hand of the one man in the whole world whom I most wanted to kill.

Nothing could blind my memories. In the eternal darkness of my mind I could conjure an image of the man. I could see the bushy beard that so complimented his appearance, hiding a weak, receding chin. He was 6'3 ½" tall, a giant as far as most Cubans go. I stiffened my spine, taking advantage of the phenomenon that had always galled him. I was a half inch taller.

I knew that he was studying me, too, measuring the effects of prison upon my will, more so than my appearance. I kept my eyes closed, lest he see darkness behind the shaded lenses of my glasses. But I did not hide my left arm and the stump above the wrist. He knew I had lost the hand in a last attempt to kill him. And he knew that I would have sacrificed my entire being in exchange for the success of the mission. The only reason he had not executed me 12 years ago was his fear of my power as a martyr.

(4) Fabian Escalante, Cuban Officials and JFK Historians Conference (7th December, 1995)

Eladio Del Valle worked for two police services - military intelligence and the traditional police. He was in charge of narcotics. He was also a legislature in the government - a representative. He was from a little town from the south of Havana. He was a captain in the merchant marines. In 1958 he was doing business dealings with Santos Trafficante in a little coastal town south of Havana. There he brought in contraband whose destination was Santos Trafficante. When the revolution triumphed, he went to Miami. Eladio Del Valle went to Miami. He settled in Miami, we don't know the address and he allied himself with Rolando Masferrer and other Batista supporters and they formed an organization called the Anti Communist Cuban Liberation Movement. From that moment on, Eladio was involved in many project against Cuba. But as I told you yesterday, we managed to penetrate this organization. And we came to know of a lot of projects, efforts, for an invasion of Cuba in secret. In order to provide arms to internal rebel groups, they needed David Ferrie as the pilot on these flights. In 1962 Eladio Del Valle tried to infiltrate Cuba with a commando group of 22 men but their boat had an English key - a little island. In the middle of 1962. Of course, we knew this. I tell you about this, because one of our agents who was one of the people helping to bring this group to Cuba, was a man of very little education. They talked English on many occasions on this little island with Eladio Del Valle told this person, on many occasions, that Kennedy must be killed to solve the Cuban problem. After that we had another piece of information on Eladio Del Valle. This was offered to us by Tony Cuesta. He told us that Eladio Del Valle was one of the people involved in the assassination plot against Kennedy. As you know, he was taken prisoner and he was very thankful to be taken back - he was blind.

He asked that this information not be public. I am only saying it here, because he is already dead. It is finished. We didn't have any other kind of information to give. There are some things you must respect. He gave us this information and in 1978 we didn't know if it was true or not. In 1978, we were not aware of the participation of Eladio Del Valle. We didn't know who he was. Remember that I explained to you yesterday that when the Select Committee when they came to Havana - they didn't give us any specific information. They just came to question us. We didn't know the relationships.

(5) Dick Russell, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1992)

The most intriguing news to come out of the Nassau conference, however, was Escalante's revelation about what another leader of the Alpha 66 group allegedly told him. As we have seen, Nagell would never reveal the true identities of "Angel" and "Leopoldo" - the two Cuban exiles who he said had deceived Oswald into believing they were Castro operatives. Instead, on several occasions when I prodded him, Nagell had cleverly steered the conversation toward a man named Tony Cuesta - indicating that this individual possessed the knowledge that he himself chose not to express. Cuesta, as noted earlier, had been taken prisoner in Cuba during a raid in 1966.

"Cuesta was blinded (in an explosion) and spent most of his time in the hospital," Escalante recalled. In 1978, he was among a group of imprisoned exiles released through an initiative of the Carter Administration. "A few days before he was to leave," according to Escalante, "I had several conversations with Cuesta. He volunteered, 'I want to tell you something very important, but I do not want this made public because I am returning to my family in Miami - and this could be very dangerous.' I think this was a little bit of thanks on his part for the medical care he received."

Escalante said he was only revealing Cuesta's story because the man had died in Miami in 1994. In a declaration he is said to have written for the Cubans, Cuesta named two other exiles as having been involved in plotting the Kennedy assassination. Their names were Eladio del Valle and Herminio Diaz Garcia.