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The Rafael Martínez Pupo Papers Relating to Comandos Mambises Collection contains Martínez Pupo's correspondence with Cuban exiles, news agents, and government officials as well as expense reports, receipts and newspaper clippings from U.S. and Latin American newspapers of the commando's attacks on Cuban soil.
Rafael Martínez Pupo was born in San Andrés, Cuba, in 1907. He was the youngest son of Antonia Pupo y Zayas-Bazán and Baldomero Martínez. Although the Zayas-Bazán family had been part of the Spanish aristocracy in Havana and had owned large sugar plantations, political and social turmoil had left some of its members in a dire situation. This was the case of Rafael Martínez Pupo's family. After completing fourth grade, Rafael dropped out of school to work on the family farm. His father died when he was a teenager. Soon after, he left home to work in the sugar mills. There, he became familiar with the business of sugar. Later, he took a job at a local store. At first, he delivered goods; afterwards, he tended the store and its customers.
In 1934, he married Georgina Martínez y Verdecié. They had two children: Georgina Martínez y Martínez and Rafael Martínez y Martínez. After getting married, Martínez Pupo opened up a bodega store in Holguín. It was so successful that before long he opened up another branch. When sugar prices skyrocketed at the beginning of World War II, Martínez Pupo became a millionaire. He then expanded his business to include several smaller stores, a shipping line, two pasta factories, and the representation of certain American companies. In 1948, he expanded his business to Havana, and later, he opened a radio transmission company in Guatemala: Intercomunicadora Electrónica, S.A.
During the 26th of July Movement, Martínez Pupo sent convoys of provisions and supplies to the rebels, only later to see Fidel Castro nationalize his belongings and his business empire in 1959. In 1960, he and his family went into exile. While his daughter and her family remained in Miami, he and his wife went to Guatemala. In 1963, the CIA recruited Martínez Pupo to lead a campaign of guerrilla warfare and sabotage by a commando group constituted by Cuban exiles. He called this group Comandos Mambises in honor of the Cuban insurgents who fought against Spain. The unit's mission was to sabotage strategic targets in Cuba in order to inflict economic and psychological damage to Castro's regime. In 1964, as U.S. involvement in Vietnam escalated, the CIA and President Lyndon Johnson decided to close down the Comandos Mambises. One of the reasons for this was fear that the group would act against U.S. broader policy. (See Don Bohning. The Castro Obsession. U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba 1959-1965. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc., 2006 and Ted Shackley, Spymaster. My Life in the CIA. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc., 2006.)