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Bay of Pig Veterans Welcome Cuban Prisoner

June 10, 1986

MIAMI (AP) _ Cuban leader Fidel Castro may release the last remaining Bay of Pigs prisoner within the next few days, says an official of a group of veterans of the ill-fated invasion 25 years ago.

Ramon Conte Hernandez, 56, was the only Bay of Pigs veteran still held captive on the communist island following the release of Ricardo Montero Duque, 60, who arrived from Cuba Sunday at Homestead Air Force Base.

″I think he (Castro) is going to release Conte in two to three days,″ Victor Haber, an official of the Organization of Bay of Pigs Veterans, said Monday.

″Castro wants to say to the world, he has opened the door. He wants to give the impression that he has softened.″

Montero was given a back-slapping welcome Monday when he visited the headquarters of the Organization of Bay of Pigs Veterans, opened at this year’s 25th anniversary commemoration of the CIA-backed exile attempt to overthrow Castro.

Fellow veterans shouted and rushed to give impassioned ″abrazos,″ or hugs to Montero, a battalion commander of rebel forces who had been held in Cuban prisons since the rout of the invasion forces.

″It seems like a dream, but I never lost hope of returning (to the United States) or getting out of prison,″ he said.

″He (Castro) must have had his reason for keeping me,″ said Montero, who served 25 years of a 30-year prison term. ″I don’t consider that he has held me for personal reasons because there are others who were there (in Cuban jails) and remain there.″

Montero, who said he was not tortured but didn’t say whether he had been mistreated in Cuban prison, said he saw other prisoners beaten. Most of the time as prisoner, he read and made industrial parts.

Aides to U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who helped win Montero’s release, said they believe he was held so long because he refused to wear a prison uniform, refused to participate in rehabilitation programs, never admitted guilt and had served as a major in the army of dictator Fulgencio Batista, overthrown by Castro in 1959.

Montero was scheduled to fly to New York today to be reunited with his wife, Ester, who was ill and unable to travel from her Union City, N.J., home.

Montero’s release was prompted by letters from Kennedy, who sent foreign policy adviser Gregory Craig to Havana last Wednesday to escort him from the island. Officials are still trying to secure the release of Conte.

″We’ve heard that Cuba might be freeing him (Conte), too,″ said Jorge Balado, a relative of Conte’s wife, Hilda. ″Since Montero was released, it sounds like this time it could be true.″

Montero, Conte and seven others were held behind when nearly 1,200 other CIA-trained exiles imprisoned in Cuba for 22 months after the invasion were freed in exchange for food and medical supplies from the U.S. administration of Sen. Kennedy’s late brother, John F. Kennedy.

Of those seven, one died in prison and six were later freed.

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