Last June, the US/Cuba Normalization blog aptly posted a Tampa Tribune story about a recent conference in support of normalization. According to the article, 16 organizations gathered last May in Ybor City to discuss their common goals in opposition to current US policy towards Cuba. Among them was Antonio Zamora, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and now a strong advocate of lifting the US embargo towards Cuba. "Normalization will open up all kinds of opportunities... For too long, we shut out reconciliation. We need a different approach," said Zamora to the Tribune. The conference in Tampa was organized by Zamora's Normalization of US/Cuba Relations (FORNORM), The Cuban American Alliance (CAAEF), The Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy and Cuba Vive.
Antonio Zamora, like Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, form part of a group of men who long ago took up arms against the Cuban government, but now seek reconciliation and a peaceful resolution to the US/Cuba conflict. Its a position that some in Miami vehemently disagree with.
In 2002, Zamora took part in another conference in support of normalization, but this time in Miami. The summit drew about 250 guests to the historic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables where they where met with some protest. US Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen held a press conference in front of the Biltmore the same day of the summit and mentioned that "[t]here are economic interests that are seeking to do business with the dictatorship and they would like the dictatorship to survive the dictator." The protest was completed by the presence of Miguel Saavedra and members from Vigilia Mambisa, a group who earlier this year attacked a group of counter-protesters in Little Havana. (The actions of Vigilia Mambisa have not since been condemned by Lincoln Diaz-Balart or Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.)
The 2002 summit was successful in drawing a crowd in support of normalization, but the gains made at the meeting were soon dashed by Cuba's massive 2003 crackdown on dissidents. The calls for normalization had to begin anew.
Among those who organized the event with Zamora was another veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion, Alfredo Duran. Duran, like Menoyo and Zamora, has also become a vociferous advocate for US/Cuba normalization and reconciliation, and in 2001 showed everyone he meant it.
That year marked the 40th Anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion, where in Cuba it is celebrated as the victory at "Playa Giron." Alfredo Duran made a bold move that year to attend a historic three-day conference in Havana about the event. For such an act, Duran was expelled from Miami's Brigade 2506 Veterans Association. Two other veterans were also expelled by the association for participating in the Havana conference. The veterans association cited: "treason to our principles, treason to all of our martyrs and treason to our country."
One of the expelled was disappointed and said: "It's ironic that 40 years ago, when I was captured by Cuban soldiers [after the invasion], I was called a traitor... And today, 40 years later, I'm being called a traitor by my friends."
But, Duran and the other expelled veterans nevertheless made it to the Havana conference. There, Duran met the artillery officer who tried to kill him. They shook hands and the conference audience applauded.
"I realized all my hate and remorse was gone," said Duran describing the instance.
- In 2003, Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, one of the founders of Alpha 66, returned to Cuba advocating peace and reconciliation.
- In 2004, Antonio Zamora, former Brigade 2506 veteran, returned to Cuba and regained his Cuban citizenship which was invalidated after the Bay of Pigs invasion. It was part of a grand gesture of good faith from the Cuban government.
- And, just the other night, another founder of Alpha 66, Antonio Veciana, appeared on Polos Opuestos and called for negotiations with Cuba. He said that we should negotiate even with the devil himself if it would bring us closer to a free Cuba.
"You negotiate peace with your enemies and your adversaries. That is one of the highest tasks of diplomacy. " - Edward Djerejian.