CIA-trained former Cuban spy Antonio Veciana dies in Miami

CIA-trained former Cuban spy Antonio Veciana, pictured in Miami in May 2017, died at age 91 following a long illness (AFP Photo/Leila MACOR)

Miami (AFP) - Cuban Antonio Veciana, a CIA spy who dedicated his life to trying to kill Fidel Castro and destabilize the island's communist government, has died in Miami at 91, his daughter said Friday.

The staunch anti-Castro crusader, who claims to have set into motion "Operation Peter Pan," a wave of panic that caused an exodus of thousands of Cuban children to the United States in the 1960s, died Thursday at a hospice after battling a long illness, his daughter Ana Veciana-Suarez told AFP.

His 2017 autobiography "Trained to Kill" chronicles how Veciana was recruited in 1959 by CIA agent David Atlee Phillips -- known by the alias "Bishop" -- and was trained in Havana to kill Fidel Castro, who died in 2016 from natural causes.

Originally an accountant at Cuba's National Bank, Veciana was taught to be invisible, to plot, to be unscrupulous, to distrust and most of all to carry out activities meant to tarnish the reputation of the country's revolutionaries.

"The work I did is what terrorists do. It's just that it wasn't called that," Veciana told AFP in an interview three years ago at his home, as his memoir was released.

Amid general destabilization on the island, Veciana spread a rumor that the Cuban government would strip parents of legal custody over their children.

Parents then sent some 14,000 children to the United States in an exodus known as "Operation Peter Pan."

Between 1960 and 1962, parents took their children out of Cuba via offices of the Catholic Church. Minors without adult companions were received at camps in Florida.

Veciana went into exile in the United States in 1961, following a failed attack on Castro.

When contacted by "Bishop" in Miami, Veciana founded the anti-Castro paramilitary group "Alpha 66," which during the 1960s and '70s carried out commando-type strikes against the Castro regime.

He subsequently carried out two other attempts on Castro's life, finally throwing in the towel and giving up his mission to kill the Cuban leader in 1979.