A few months later, in February 1960, Alfredo Villoldo fled Cuba for Miami. Gustavo's wife, Elia, also made her way to Florida with the couple's three young children — Gustavo Alfredo, Eduardo, and Elia Mercedes.

It wasn't easy to fight a war and keep a family together. Gustavo leaned on Alfredo for help. "His family didn't know everything he was doing, but I always did," Alfredo says today. "His wife did know the Bay of Pigs would be a huge risk, but Gustavo trusted me to watch over his family if he was killed."

Gustavo was a natural for the senior ranks of Brigade 2506, as the exile invasion force called itself. When the fighters relocated to Guatemala and then a U.S. base in Nicaragua for the final stages, Gustavo became the invasion force's head of security.

Half the year, Gustavo hunts and fishes on his remote Alaskan island.
Courtesy of Gustavo Villoldo
Half the year, Gustavo hunts and fishes on his remote Alaskan island.

Villoldo was supremely confident of victory. In early 1961, he even allowed Elia and their three kids to move back to Havana. "I was stupid and blind," Gustavo says now. "I wanted them to be in Cuba when we liberated the country. It was all I could think about."

By April 15, 1961, the planned first day of the offensive on Cuba, the fighters began to realize that President John F. Kennedy had lost his nerve. But they went ahead anyway. At first, Gustavo stayed in Nicaragua. Three days later, a call went out for volunteers. Air crews were exhausted. "They'd already been giving us speed to keep us going," Miralles remembers. "We were totally drained."

American pilots were ready to fly, the officer told them, but each plane needed a Cuban copilot.

Six hours later, he found himself strapped next to Sig Seigrist, flying back to an uncertain landing with live napalm dangling from his wing. He didn't regret volunteering for the mission. But he already felt bitter at Kennedy's betrayal. Good men were dying.

Seigrist flew back to the Central American CIA base. He circled the runway, and Gustavo could almost feel the napalm exploding and burning away his flesh. When the wheels touched down, the loose bomb dragged on the tarmac, kicking up sparks.

But it didn't blow. Afterward, Gustavo sat on the jungle runway and cried — for the invasion gone wrong, for his homeland, for his family trapped in Havana, and for his father.


Gustavo was ready to give up the fight. He flew once more with Seigrist, on the last aerial mission of the invasion. Then he spent two weeks at the Nicaraguan base, nicknamed "Happy Valley," preparing to return home to Miami.

Before he could leave, a CIA officer approached him with an offer: Work for the agency and keep fighting. In exchange, Gustavo's wife and children would be smuggled from Havana.

Gustavo agreed. "I thought it could be a jumping-off point to what I wanted to accomplish," he says. He began as an Army second lieutenant, then officially joined the CIA in 1964.

Meanwhile, his family flew to Miami with CIA assistance in the mid-'60s and moved into a home in Hialeah. Gustavo and Elia had three more kids in the next few years — Ana Maria, Alejandro, and Patricia. "It wasn't easy keeping a family together with a life like this," Gustavo says with dry understatement.

He still declines to discuss much of his undercover work. He claims he successfully infiltrated Cuba 30 to 40 times for the CIA — an account that his former station chief, who recently died, confirmed to a Miami Herald reporter in 1997. Gustavo says he played a "significant role" in the Iran-Contra scandal. "I'm lucky I never got called to testify to Congress," he says.

One thing never changed, though. As Gustavo flitted from spying on leftists in Guatemala to rebels in Ecuador, he never forgot the role Che Guevara played in unraveling his family.

After the Cuban Revolution, Che was the public face of the revolution. Then in 1965, Castro appointed Che to spread Marxist revolution around the developing world. Che vowed to create "a hundred Vietnams."

When the CIA learned that the Cuban leader was assisting a Marxist revolution in the Congo, Gustavo quickly volunteered to track him. He spent three months in the equatorial backwater, listening to Guevara's radio messages and closing in on his position. But Che became sick and dispirited just a year into his conquest, then fled to Tanzania. "He got out of the Congo with pure luck," Gustavo scoffs.

Two years later, Che flew to Bolivia to try to inspire a peasant revolt. Gustavo followed, accompanied by Felix Rodriguez, another Bay of Pigs vet working for the CIA.

Rodriguez is often painted as the leader of the CIA's efforts in Bolivia. In the book Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, author Jon Lee Anderson writes that the CIA summoned Rodriguez to Washington to spearhead its effort in Bolivia and notes that Gustavo was already in La Paz.

But Gustavo maintains that he ran the operation. Rodriguez was just a "radio operator," he says. Their feud is legendary among older exiles — and in a way typical of the internecine squabbling that eventually divided the brigade. "If you talk to Felix Rodriguez for this story," Gustavo says, "you are not authorized to use my interview."

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