NBC 6's Hank Tester reports on a group of Miami Cuban exiles and their shootout with Che Guevara in the Congo.
A group of Miami Cuban exiles are speaking out for the first time about their battle against a Communist takeover of the former Belgian Congo in the 1960s and an amazing gunfight with Che Guevara.
The group participated in the CIA's secret war, waged to ensure that the region's mineral wealth did not fall into the hands of the Russians or Chinese.
Fidel Castro sent Cuban troops, lead by Guevara, to the Congo to bolster the Red forces. The CIA countered with a small air force, ground troops and a two-boat navy. Most of the pilots, troops and sailors were Cuban exiles, some whom had participated in the ill-fated Bay of Pigs Invasion
The Cubans were part of a larger international force that included mercenaries that battled revolutionaries intent on turning the Congo into a Communist state.
The navy group operated two CIA supplied "Swift Boats" on Lake Tanganyika. Their job was to prevent rebel groups and the troops led by Guevara from crossing the lake, cut off supplies and shell enemy camps near the shore.
During the operation, the exile navy put a dent in the supply traffic and almost took out Guevara but didn't even know it until much later. The battle happened on the lake the night of Nov. 21, 1965.
"We did not know that Che Guevara himself was there, I guess the higher officials in the operation knew it but they never told us," Felix Toledo said. I believe that if we knew Guevara was there he would not have escaped for sure."
Guevara did get away, only to die in 1967 at the hands of the CIA in Bolivia.
Frank Villafana, who authored "Cold War in the Congo," details the exploits of the Cuban Exile force in the Congo and says the CIA navy was instrumental in the eventual defeat of Guevara's band of soldiers.