Montura Ranch Estates, near Clewiston, Fla.
Jorge Gonzalez empties his 9-mm Browning revolver into an empty can that lies 30 paces away up the grassy firing range and steps back. His dark brown eyes are blazing.Skip to next paragraph
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All around, troops in camouflaged fatigues, some kneeling, some lying, are bringing a hail of rifle fire to bear on a target atop a sandy ridge some 400 yards away. Spouts of sand are erupting all around it. Every so often the highpitched report of the AR-15s is drowned by the crash of an M- 1 and a Belgian FAL. Jorge Gonzalez returns his revolver to its leather holster and surveys his people. There is a faint smile on his face: Fidel Castro has something else to worry about.
Maj. Jorge Gonzalez, who goes by the nickname of "Bombillo," or "Light Bulb," is the commander of a guerrilla group training here, just south of Lake Okeechobee, for the liberation of Cuba. The guerrillas don't intend to storm the island, though. They plan to help liberate it after the Cuban people have risen in revolt -- which is something Major Gonzalez is confidently expecting. The lessons of the Bay of Pigs are still very much in his mind. When the invasion failed so dismally in 1961, he was poised in Oriente Province with 60 armed men.
The comandante,m until recently a Miami car exporter, now devotes all his time to supervising his guerrilla force. "His wife works and he's put money aside, especially for this time," says Lt. Ernesto Don, the group's military information officer and the major's translator. All ranks are self- styled.
Much of the guerrilla group's basic training takes place on four acres of sand, grass, and pine trees that Gonzalez owns in this remote community near Clewiston. At the entrance to his barbed-wire-ringed property, known as "Camp Liberty," stands a wooden ranch-style archway painted red. A somewhat forbidding sentry in a green beret, AR-15 raised, paces back and forth beneath it. Flanking the entrance are a Cuban flag and a Stars and Stripes, hanging motionless in the still, hot air. A trailer under the pine trees, which the comandantem uses during the group's weekend training sessions, is adorned with stickers proclaiming: "Russians Out Of Cuba," and "I'm Proud To Be A Cuban." Inside, another warns: "We The Cubans Have To Fight For Our Land."
According to Lieutenant Don, a mechanical engineer, Cuban guerrillas trained hereabouts after the Bay of Pigs debacle in a vain hope that they might transform defeat into victory. All were killed when they landed in Cuba, he says, "so this place is of some sentimental value."
The Cuban-American guerrillas come from every walk of life. "They're factory workers, barbers, businessmen, and clerks," declares the military information officer, rubbing a hand over his unshaven face and fighting back fatigue after a tiring night operation. Lieutenant Don declines to disclose the strength of the guerrilla force.
"We have never given out any figures," he says. Recently the Miami News reported that it was composed of "500 crack troops" -- and quoted Major Gonzalez as saying so.
"It's possible they've got 500 in the state of Florida," says Hendry County Sheriff Earl Dyess Sr., but he says he's never seen more than 40 at Camp Liberty. A Miami FBI spokesman doubts that the force can be numbered in the hundreds.
The guerrilla group, which was formed in 1978, chooses to be known by the rather awkward title of "support unit for the Internal National Liberation Front." According to Lieutenant Don, who sports a blue woolen watch cap rather than more traditional headgear, the guerrilla leadership maintains communications with the Front, which, he says, is already committing acts of sabotage in Cuba. He adds that a branch of the guerrilla force is to be found at Homestead and that a new 40-acre camp has just been opened near Miami.