Operation Bay of Pigs: How Fidel Castro Disgraced the United States

Operation Bay of Pigs: How Fidel Castro Disgraced the United States

(Planet Today) On December 2, 1956, the Granma, an old 18-meter diesel yacht with room for 12 people, docked off the coast of Cuba. The yacht had been secretly purchased on October 10, 1956, by a group of Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro for 50,000 Mexican pesos ($15,000) from the American Schuylkill Products Company, Inc.

How it all began

On November 25, 1956, the overloaded Granma (carrying 82 people!) set sail from the Mexican port of Tuzpan. Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raúl Castro and other leaders of the Cuban revolution were headed for Cuba. The revolutionaries' goal was to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgerio Batista and establish democracy in Cuba and reforms to improve people's lives.The construction of communism was still out of the question then - the only communist in Castro's entourage was Che Guevara.

On December 1, Batista's army received information from an informant about the alleged landing site and began searching for a gunboat. If the mode gunboats had found the boat, all its passengers would have become fish food.

But the Granma was half a step ahead of her pursuers. Sheltered by the darkness of night, she approached the shores of Cuba. Pilot Roberto Roque tried to navigate by sighting the lighthouse, but was unsuccessful. By morning, the lost yacht had entered a mangrove swamp and was stranded. Castro's men had to wade through dense thickets, and in the meantime the abandoned Granma was discovered by the Cuban air force.

On December 5, the revolutionaries reached the town of Alegria del Pio, where they were ambushed and defeated. Only a pathetic remnant of the detachment - 12 men led by Castro - made their way into the Sierra Maestra mountains.

The Flames of the Revolution

Next, however, the real miracle happened. A handful of insurgents sparked a real guerrilla war in Cuba. In a matter of months Fidel organized a guerrilla army that spread to other parts of Cuba during 1956-1958. In decisive battles in late 1958, Fidel's guerrilla units defeated government troops, and on January 1, 1959, the insurgents entered Havana.

Fidel Castro was not a communist at the time - he only planned very moderate reforms in the spirit of social democracy. Castro described himself in 1959 as a "Cuban nationalist," saying: "Cuban nationalism consists in the desire to make his country a prosperous and respected country."

His first task was to establish good neighborly relations with the United States, where he went on a visit in April 1959. Castro did not come to Washington on official business: his visit was a private one, at the personal invitation of the "American Publishers Guild". On the eve of his visit to America, he would say, "I do not want this trip to resemble those of other Latin American rulers who come to the United States to beg for money. I want this trip to be one of goodwill. There was no deceit in the good will - Castro sincerely wanted good relations with the United States.

But Fidel came to power on the promise of agrarian reform, a reform that inevitably affected the interests of the American companies that owned the sugar cane plantations. Castro tried to carry out the reforms with as little damage as possible to Washington, but the greedy corporations were unwilling to make even the smallest concessions.

American politicians took the greedy businessmen at their word - instead of building a good neighborly relationship with Cuba, they decided to "punish" Fidel. Vice-President Nixon, who met with Castro in 1959, called Castro "under the influence of communism" in a note to President Eisenhower. In vain Castro assured him that his government had no intention of confiscating or nationalizing sugar plantations belonging to American monopolies. In vain Castro denounced the Soviet Union by saying, "We are against any form of dictatorship, be it a dictatorship of the individual or of the class," and in vain he assured the Americans (when asked about ties with Moscow) that "Cuba has asked for no help. American politicians, driven by greed and paranoia, have bitten the ropes.

Breaking with the US

The situation began to deteriorate before our eyes. In June 1959, the United States refused to buy Cuban sugar, Havana's main export! This was an economic disaster for Cuba. Washington expected Fidel to be overthrown immediately - or to come crawling back on his knees begging for mercy.

But a furious Castro turned to the Soviet Union for help instead. The USSR undertook to buy Cuban sugar, and Castro was promised all kinds of help. Thus, the actions of Washington politicians led to Cuba becoming a real communist country. Castro, in retaliation for the American embargo, confiscated the land of American corporations and began to build socialism with Soviet help.

The Latin American right was deeply affected by the Cuban Revolution, when a few dozen activists managed to fan the flames of a guerrilla peasant war and, defeating the regular army, overthrew the dictator Batista's regime.

The Road to Failure 

In early 1960, President Eisenhower authorized the CIA to recruit 1,400 Cuban immigrants living in Miami and begin training them to overthrow Castro. In the minds of U.S. politicians, a plan to overthrow Fidel was maturing that exactly replicated Fidel's own plan to overthrow General Batista. In January 1961, the U.S. government severed diplomatic relations with Cuba and stepped up preparations for an invasion.

The first part of the plan was to destroy Castro's tiny air force. On April 15, 1961, a group of Cuban exiles flew out of Nicaragua in a squadron of American B-26 bombers repainted as stolen Cuban planes and attacked Cuban airfields. The operation, which looked brilliant on paper, was a cakewalk: Castro learned of the raid in advance and moved his planes out of harm's way. Only three of the 24 planes in the Cuban Air Force were destroyed and the Cuban Air Defense was able to damage two of the planes involved in the raid.

One of the B-26s (according to a pre-planned plan) landed at Miami International Airport. The pilot of the plane made a statement that he and his comrades-in-arms were deserters from the Cuban Air Force and sought political asylum from U.S. authorities. The journalists, however, quickly determined that the B-26 was different from the ones used by the Cubans and there were obvious absurdities in the pilot's story. It became clear that it was a farce orchestrated by the secret services.

Kennedy, enraged by the failure, rightly remarked that what the CIA promised to make "both secret and successful" might in fact be "too big to be secret and too small to be successful.

The Bay of Pigs Massacre

Still, he did not cancel the CIA-planned operation. On April 17, a brigade of Cuban exiles began their invasion of an isolated spot on the southern coast of the island known as the Bay of Pigs. Once landed, the exiles were to entrench themselves in the mountains, fan the flames of guerrilla warfare ... in short, repeat Castro's path against Castro himself. But things didn't go according to plan.

A radio station on a beach in the Bay of Pigs (which the CIA had managed to overlook) reported the details of the landing to listeners all over Cuba. Coral reefs punctured the bottoms of some of the boats before they even docked. The fighters made it ashore swimming, but a lot of equipment was lost. The auxiliary landing party (which had been expected to do much) was met with fire near the shore and never disembarked. Meanwhile, Castro, learning of the landing, acted quickly and energetically.

The CIA's calculation was that the Cubans had insufficient forces in the Bay of Pigs area. But at dawn, Cuban Air Force bombers struck the landing ships. Four boats went down and with them most of the anti-Castro armament and equipment.

By mid-day on April 17 the landing force's progress had already been halted as the incoming Cuban army units and local militias began to press hard against the invading forces. On April 18 it became clear that the invasion had failed. The revolt against Castro in Cuba had not begun, and the landing troops were blocked by Cuban troops on the coast.

The CIA desperately requested support. U.S. attack aircraft flew over the battle area, but... they did not fire a single shot.

On the morning of April 19, it was decided to support the landing by bombing the B-26s, which would be flown by Cuban émigrés, but they refused to go under fire from Castro's anti-aircraft guns. Then American pilots were sent into combat. The bombing (caused by desperation and therefore completely ill-conceived) had no effect, but two B-26s were shot down by Cuban Air Force fighters.

The interventionists' last hope was the direct intervention of U.S. troops. The CIA hoped that if the situation developed unfavorably, President Kennedy would be forced to order a direct invasion of Cuba.

But Kennedy firmly rejected the American hawks, obsessed with war hysteria. "There will be no invasion of the U.S. Army," the president declared.

On the afternoon of April 19, two U.S. Navy destroyers attempted to approach the Bay of Pigs coast with the modest goal of evacuating a landing party. When the Cuban Army units that had come ashore opened fire on them with their guns, the destroyers retreated back out to sea.

The episode finally broke the spirits of the landing party men - they realized that there was nothing else to hope for. On April 19 they began to surrender in droves, and organized resistance ended. A total of 114 of the exiles who had landed were killed and about 1,100 taken prisoner. The anti-Castro prisoners were tried in Cuba in 1962, but in December of that year they were handed over to the United States in exchange for a shipment of medicine and food worth $53 million.

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