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Pedro Diaz Lanz commits suicide

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It happened last Thursday and he was buried today. I'm not sure the story has been reported yet (maybe one of the Miami papers) but he was apparently very depressed and was living an impoverished life.



How sad this admirable anti-Castro Cuban Patriot has gone

Pedro Diaz Lanz

We shall remember well and long!

Harry J. Dean

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From left to right, unknown, Marcos Diaz Lanz, Pedro Diaz Lanz and Frank Fiorini aka Frank Sturgis.


Posted on Mon, Jun. 30, 2008

Flew guns to Castro, but soon fought him


Pedro Díaz Lanz, a Cuban pilot who helped supply weapons to Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains and then became the first chief of the Revolutionary Air Force before breaking with the Cuban leader, died in Miami Thursday night of a self-inflicted bullet wound to the chest, relatives and friends said. He was 81.

Díaz Lanz died impoverished and disappointed, suffering from emotional problems that had drained his health, according to relatives and friends.

''He was a patriot, a man who had the dignity to give all for the liberty of Cuba,'' his brother Eduardo Díaz Lanz told a local radio station. According to Eduardo, Pedro had warned him months ago that he preferred to take his own life rather than ``fall into the abyss.''

Prominent members of the Cuban exile community who also first helped and then broke with Castro praised Díaz Lanz's contribution to the anti-Castro cause.


'He was a man of firm ideas who contributed decisively to a revolution that we once considered redeeming of Cubans' rights, and that is why he became one of the early victims of Fidel Castro's betrayal,'' said Huber Matos, a Revolutionary commander who broke with Castro and spent 20 years in Cuban prisons accused of treason.

Born in Havana on Nov. 8, 1926, Pedro Díaz Lanz came from a family deeply involved in Cuban history. His grandfather belonged to the Cuban rebel forces known as ''mambises'' that fought Spanish colonial soldiers, and his father was a high-ranking officer in the Cuban army until 1930.

Díaz Lanz told friends he was a great-grandchild of a sister of José Martí, hero of Cuba's independence from Spain.

He graduated from college in 1944 and then studied aviation mechanics. In 1946, when he was 20, Díaz Lanz began flying planes and soon became a commercial co-pilot for the Cuban airline Aerovías Q, which flew passengers and cargo between Havana and Miami.

Upset with Cuba's political impasse after Fulgencio Batista's coup in 1952, Díaz Lanz met Frank País, leader of an urban resistance movement in Santiago de Cuba. Later Díaz Lanz came into contact with Castro, who assigned him to obtain and then supply weapons to the anti-Batista movement from abroad, using his commercial pilot job as a cover.

The first clandestine arms shipment for Castro's rebel forces was flown from Punta Arenas, Costa Rica, to a hamlet deep in the Sierra Maestra mountains on March 20, 1958.

Piloting a cargo plane also carrying Matos, the Díaz Lanz mission was carried out successfully -- delivering five tons of weapons and ammunition to the rebels.

''I met him before the trip, and from the outset I realized he was a person of great determination, firmness and courage beyond any doubt,'' Matos recalled.

Díaz Lanz also carried military supplies from Venezuela. It is estimated that 70 percent of weapons delivered to Castro's rebels and their allies were airlifted by Díaz Lanz.

When Castro's revolution triumphed in early January 1959, Díaz Lanz was arranging another arms shipment from Costa Rica, and he immediately flew to Santiago de Cuba to rendezvous with rebel forces.

Appointed immediately as chief of the new Revolutionary Air Force, Díaz Lanz traveled to Camagüey to try to persuade Batista military pilots that their lives would be respected by the new regime.

At that time, Castro promised they could remain in the new armed forces and that any prior action would be considered as legitimate obedience to orders.

''The pilots believed this and many of them flew with me to [Camp] Columbia [the main military base in Havana],'' Díaz Lanz recalled in a statement in 1988. ``Who would have thought that only a few months later they would be be arrested and tried on orders from the joint chiefs of staff head, Raúl Castro, and sentenced -- disregarding the prior amnesty process -- promised by Fidel himself.''

The pilots' case marked the beginning of Díaz Lanz's loss of confidence in the Castro revolution.

Fidel Castro annulled an initial legal proceeding against the pilots, which found them innocent, and ordered a new proceeding. In the end many received sentences of up to 30 years in prison, though some witnesses claimed that thanks to Díaz Lanz's intervention their lives were saved.

Opposed to communist influence in the principal government posts, Díaz Lanz was removed from his job and left Cuba on June 29, 1959 -- aboard a sailboat. After drifting for days, he landed in Miami on the Fourth of July 1959 and testified before the U.S. Congress about Castro's intention to turn Cuba into a communist country under the Soviet Union.

But Díaz Lanz was not yet finished with Cuba.

On Oct. 21, 1959, he flew back to the island and dropped thousands of fliers over Havana denouncing the revolution's turn to the Marxist path.

He flew low over the Cuban capital, drawing indiscriminate gunfire from Castro's soldiers posted at bases, buildings and streets.

The next day, Castro accused Díaz Lanz of ''bombing'' Havana and linked the episode to Matos, who by then had been detained in Camagüey province under sedition charges.

At a rally summoned a few days later by the Cuban leader, an angry throng demanded that Matos and Díaz Lanz be executed by firing squad.

Matos denied any link to a conspiracy, though Díaz Lanz had previously told Matos about a private conversation on a plane in which Castro reportedly said, ``We are going to have problems with Huber.''

In exile, Díaz Lanz along with Frank Sturgis, who later became one of the Watergate burglars, founded the Cuban Constitutional Crusade in 1959. Díaz Lanz also joined sabotage missions to Cuba that were organized by the CIA.

He was one of the members of so-called Operación 40, a group of prominent anti-Castro activists in 1961.

Díaz Lanz actively participated in numerous seaborne operations to sneak weapons into Cuba during the 1960s.

The Cuban government considered him a dangerous enemy and even claimed he was involved in the Kennedy assassination.

''He will go down in history as a visionary,'' said anti-Castro activist José Hilario Pujol, a friend of Díaz Lanz. ``He was the first who from within realized what Fidel Castro would bring to Cuba, and he was the one who most sacrificed for his ideals.''

He worked many odd jobs to make a living in exile.

His economic situation was precarious, and in the last few years he resorted to sleeping in his car because he did not have money to rent a house.

Many friends said he was always reluctant to accept cash donations to make ends meet. He also became deeply religious.


''We believe in a Cuba without victors or vanquished, without hatred or rancor, where all work for all,'' Díaz Lanz wrote some years ago in El Nuevo Herald.

``We believe in the respect for someone else's right, in liberty and justice. Beautiful dream that which all embraced and for which many gave their lives. But the dark night of greed and ambition covered our beautiful island.''

Díaz Lanz is survived by siblings Eduardo, Marcos and Yolanda; children Pedro René, Pedro Miguel, Tania Denisse, Minú and Ivonne; and several grandchildren. Three other siblings died in violent circumstances: Jorge killed himself in Miami in 1976; Esther María was murdered in Miami Beach in 1986; and Guillermo hanged himself in Havana in 1998.

Díaz Lanz's first son, Pedro Luis, died several years ago. Burial will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Woodlawn South Cemetery, 11200 SW Eighth St.

Edited by Robert Howard
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