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Anti-Castro activist Maggie Schuss dies

MIAMI -- As a "founding mother" of Brothers to the Rescue, Maggie Schuss took on nearly every role with the anti-Castro humanitarian group except piloting the planes searching for rafters fleeing Cuba.

She flew as a spotter, dropped leaflets, acted as the group's spokeswoman, packed supplies, kept the books and offered encouragement to her husband, William R. Schuss, who co-founded Brothers to the Rescue with Jose Basulto in 1991.

They married 50 years ago, hastily, at the Brazilian Embassy in Havana, where he had sought asylum following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, then reunited months later in Miami.

Born Margarita Campo in Cuba, she died of lung cancer Monday at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami.

In addition to her work with Brothers to the Rescue, Schuss ran the Cuban American National Foundation's membership program in the early 1990s.

"I always felt I had to work twice as hard for Cuba because I was pro-Fidel in the beginning -- and Billy and I are one of the few people in exile to admit it," Schuss said in an interview for a book by Basulto and Lily Prellezo.

Having worked to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista, Schuss and her husband supported Fidel Castro, who deposed him in 1959. "At the very beginning of Castro, a lot of people pinned a lot of hopes on him," said Rita Basulto, Jose's wife, and a close friend. "Then you started seeing his colors. Maggie would say openly, 'I was for him?' "

In an interview, Schuss said she changed her mind on Feb. 5, 1960, when Soviet First Deputy Premier Anastas Mikoyan placed a wreath on a statue of Jose Marti, the father of Cuban independence. "She knew that communism was the end game for Cuba," Prellezo said.

In Havana, Schuss worked for the Coca-Cola Company and, according to Prellezo, "used the mimeograph machine to print anti-Fidel propaganda. She'd make the copies, tie them around her waist and hide them under her clothes.

"Once outside, she'd distribute the pamphlets."

Her husband said she tried to talk him out of participating in the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, "but I won that battle." They married on June 27, 1961, after which Maggie "went home to her sister's house," said Prellezo. She called in sick on Oct. 6, 1961, to flee Havana on a Pan Am flight.

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