As workers continue to search the rubble of the collapsed condo building in Surfside, Florida, stories of the extraordinary lives of victims are starting to emerge, among them a Cuban exile who took part in the calamitous Bay of Pigs invasion 60 jare terug.
Juan Mora, one of 90 mense whose deaths have now been officially recorded in the collapse of Champlain Towers South, was a member of Brigade 2506 which played a key role in the abortive effort to overthrow Cuba’s revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro.
Mora was trained in guerrilla warfare in the Guatemalan jungle, then dispatched in April 1961 as part of a 1,400-strong paramilitary force whose mission was to land at night on the southern coast of Cuba and from there put an end to the Soviet-backed revolutionary government.
The cold war plan, conceived and paid for by the CIA under Dwight Eisenhower and set in train by his successor, John F Kennedy, went disastrously wrong. Kennedy withdrew air support from the invading paramilitary forces, who were overpowered by the Cuban army in just three humiliating days.
Mora’s remarkable story was disclosed by the Associated Press as news emerged of the lives tragically lost when the 12-story condo building crashed down in the early hours of 24 Junie. The agency reported that the body of the Cuban exile, 80, was recovered along with those of his wife Ana and their son Juan Mora Jr, who had been visiting from Chicago.
Humberto Díaz Argüelles, a friend of Mora who was also present at the Bay of Pigs, told the AP they trained together in the Guatemalan jungle in 1960 en 1961. Mora was a radio operator.
Conditions were primitive and harsh but they didn’t mind, Argüelles said, because “we were so convinced about what we were doing to go free Cuba that nobody complained”.
They soon realized something had gone wrong when massive support promised by the CIA failed to materialize. Having run out of water, food and ammunition, they were captured by Cuban forces and taken to a military fort in Havana where they spent 20 months before being returned to Florida in exchange for $53m.
Despite the disastrous nature of the invasion attempt, Mora remained proud of his participation and was an active member of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association. He went on to manage a business selling hurricane-proof windows and doors.
His life story emerged as specialist workers continue to remove layers of debris from the wreckage of Champlain Towers South. The mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett, said extra care was being taken to find bodies as well as possessions.
The latest estimate is that the recovery should be complete in two to three weeks.
The pace of the painstaking work could be affected by the discovery that two senior officials in the operation tested positive for Covid-19. Jose Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade county commission, and his chief of staff, Isidoro Lopez, were confirmed to have acquired the illness – despite both having been fully vaccinated.