Front Door to Cuba

Notes on Manuel Ray Rivero

In 1947, at the age of 23, Manuel Ray Rivero received a scholarship from the Cuban Ministry of Public Works to study civil engineering at the University of Utah. He returned to Cuba in 1949 to work in the field of engineering, and later became project manager for the construction of the Havana Hilton Hotel.

Instead of simply accepting his good fortune and success, Ray joined the effort to oust Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. He organized the Civic Resistance Movement in 1957, overseeing sabotage and acts of urban violence against the government.

In February of 1959, just over a month after Batista's infamous middle-of-the-night departure, the new rebel government appointed Manuel Ray to the position of Public Works Minister. This job would last until November. (By the end of the year, 12 of the 29 ministers originally assigned had resigned or been removed.)

Again Ray found it necessary to oppose a Cuban dictator, as he feared Castro would become. To this end he created the Revolutionary Movement of the People (MRP) in May 1960. Soon the anti-Castro organization had an active membership in each of Cuba's six provinces.

The MRP was designed as a progressive organization, and it clearly did not wish to turn back the clock, or re-instate the 1940 Constitution. Instead, it proposed a continuation of laws passed by Castro and the Revolution, including the nationalization of all utilities.

Eventually Manuel Ray was forced to leave Cuba or face jail and/or execution. He entered the United States on November 10, 1960, but he wasn't exactly welcomed by recently established Cuban-American leaders Miró Cardona and Manuel Artíme. Because his group had been dramatically to the left of other popular Miami-based anti-Castro groups, they found it "suspicious" that Ray said he would not outlaw the Communist Party in Cuba.

Some CIA analysts contended that Ray was so far "left in his thinking that he would be as dangerous to U.S. interests as Castro." To further confound matters, Ray declined to join the Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC), of which Miró Cardona was President.

The CRC was a CIA-picked government that would be flown into Cuba once the invading rebels held a sizeable piece of land. This "government in arms" would request U.S. assistance against Castro, and the U.S. would immediately recognize it as Cuba's legitimate government. This would open the door for military assistance.

Ray felt that this "government" was "too restricted" by CIA priorities and did not reflect the needs of the Cuban people. But as a show of support for an armed effort against Castro, however, he joined the CRC about three weeks before the invasion at Bay of Pigs.

About a month after the failed invasion, on May 28, 1961, Ray gave a news conference in Miami announcing his break with the CRC. His reasons were varied but clearly articulated; priority should have been given to underground fighters in Cuba, members of Batista's regime should not have been involved in the invasion, and he should have had a "say" about the military leaders of the invasion. He added that to overthrow Castro, it would be necessary to mobilize the discontented people in Cuba, to which he had more access than any of the CIA-selected leaders.

Ray moved to Puerto Rico in July 1961, and Governor Luis Muñoz Marin offered support. In October of that year Ray accepted a position as a consultant to the Puerto Rican Planning Board.

A year later (July 1962) Ray formed the Junta Revolucionario Cubana (JURE). It was to be strictly political in nature, although it would cooperate with the CRC. Ray hoped that JURE would eventually control the CRC.

JURE proved to be useful to the CIA, particularly to JMWAVE, the CIA station in Miami from which operations against Cuba were run. David Korn wrote in Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades; "It provided the CIA information on people in Cuba who might be recruited by the Agency or enticed to defect. But Ray's leftist politics still troubled some JMWAVE officers."

In June 1963, Rogelio Cisneros became JURE's military coordinator. Based on his interpretation of the "Rules of Engagement of the Autonomous Operations," Cisneros didn't feel "a need" to report political or military activities to the CIA or anybody else, even when they were the main funding source. [This tendency to act independently and without unity hurt JURE and the anti-Castro movement throughout this decade.]

Ray began to plan an infiltration into Cuba in January 1964, and he turned over control of JURE to Cisneros. In May he quit his job in Puerto Rico and dropped out of sight.

With a crew of seven (which included a reporter and a photographer from LIFE Magazine) Ray headed for Cuba, but days of bad weather and expanded patrol of the Cuban coastline prevented them from reaching the island. They were forced to land at the Antilla Cays, 40 miles away from Cuba, and legally part of the Bahamas. While anchored, British military officers arrested them and confiscated their weapons.

In the U.S., the FBI and the U.S. Treasury Department charged Cisneros with illegally purchasing $50,000 worth of weapons in California.

Ray tried to infiltrate Cuba again in July 1964, with plans to start a revolution against Castro. But again the boat had trouble, and he was forced to abort the plan.

JURE came apart in August 1968. Ray tried to organize Cubans against Castro again in 1969 and 1972.

By 1978 Ray was heading his own engineering consulting firm in Puerto Rico's San Juan.

Cuba in The 1960s

Bay of Pigs | Rolando Cubela | José Miró Cardona | Tony Varona | Huber Matos

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