As workers continue to search the rubble of the collapsed condo building in Surfside, Florida, stories begin to emerge of the extraordinary lives of the victims, including a Cuban exile who participated in the calamitous Bay of Pigs invasion 60 years ago.
Juan Mora, one of more than 90 people whose deaths have been officially recorded in the Champlain Towers South collapse, was a member of Brigade 2506, which played a key role in the failed effort to overthrow the Cuban revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro.
Mora was trained in guerrilla warfare in the Guatemalan jungle, then sent to 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 put in motion by his successor, John F. Kennedy, went disastrously wrong. Kennedy withdrew air support from the invading paramilitary forces, which were dominated by the Cuban army in just three humiliating days.
On Monday, the number of confirmed deaths in the building disaster rose to 94, of which 83 had been identified, and 80 family members had been notified. The recovery mission continued 24 hours a day. However, overnight, first responders had to postpone operations due to the threat of lightning.
The pace of painstaking work could also be affected by the discovery that two senior officials from the operation tested positive for Covid-19. Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman José Díaz and his chief of staff, Isidoro López, were confirmed to have acquired the disease, even though both had been fully vaccinated.
At a press conference on Monday, authorities said identifying the victims was becoming more difficult. Increasingly, they had to rely on the forensic skills of the medical examiner’s office.
Remarkably intact artifacts, including intact wine bottles, were still being hauled out of the rubble. Over the weekend, recovery workers found an artist’s business card and managed to recover in the same area of the pile several of the artist’s paintings that will now be given to family members.
The state on Monday launched a new website designed to make it easier for families to access financial help and grief counseling.
Among the confirmed dead, Mora’s remarkable story was reconstructed by the Associated Press when news emerged of lives tragically lost when the 12-story condo building collapsed in the early hours of June 24. The agency reported that the body of the 80-year-old Cuban exile was recovered along with those of his wife Ana and son Juan Mora Jr, who were visiting from Chicago.
Humberto Díaz Argüelles, a friend of Mora’s who was also present in the Bay of Pigs, told the AP that they trained together in the Guatemalan jungle in 1960 and 1961. Mora was a radio operator.
Conditions were primitive and harsh but they didn’t care, Argüelles said, because “we were so convinced of what we were doing to go to free Cuba that no one complained.”
They soon realized that something had gone wrong when the massive support promised by the CIA failed to materialize. Running 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 $ 53 million.
Despite the failed invasion, Mora remained proud of his involvement and was an active member of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association. He then went on to run a business selling hurricane-proof windows and doors.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism