What was the Bay of Pigs fiasco?
The failure of the invasion of Cuba in April, 1961 by 1500 CIA-trained anti-Castro expatriates. This event is generally attributed to President Kennedy’s loss of nerve at the critical moment, when he cancelled the air strikes which were supposed to incapacitate Castro’s air force. As a result, more than a hundred men were killed, the rest surrendered, and Cuban refugees and exiles in America never forgave Kennedy for the event.
Kennedy did assume full public responsibility for what he too considered a disaster, as he should have. Privately, though, he blamed the CIA, and fired the three top men in the agency responsible for the operation: Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director Gen. Pearr Cabell, and Deputy Director for Plans (now called Operations) Richard Bissell. Immediately after the failed invasion, on April 22, Kennedy ordered Gen. Maxwell Taylor, the President’s special military representative, Admiral Arleigh Burke, the Chief of Naval Operations, Dulles, and Robert Kennedy, the Attorney General, to conduct a full investigation of why the invasion had failed. This was submitted on June 13, 1961, but did not become available to the public until twenty years later, when a transcript of the report was published as a book called Operation Zapata (University Publications of America, 1981). “Operation Zapata” was the code name for the invasion. The first thing to keep in mind is that Kennedy would not have ordered this investigation if he felt he were truly responsible. He knew what he had and had not done, and obviously that did not go very far toward explaining how things had gone so wrong.
What about the air strikes?
Two air strikes were planned. The first one, on D-2 (Sat., April 15), was to be a bombing raid on two airfields (at Santiago and San Antonio de Los Banos), accompanied by a “diversionary” landing of 160 men 30 miles east of Guantanamo. The landing did not take place, which is a good thing for the 160 men, who would obviously have been quickly captured or killed. The bombing raids did take place and destroyed a small number of Castro’s planes. But the logic behind this first strike was never clear. The B-26s, which were actually flown from Nicaragua, were meant to look like Castro’s own planes, flown by defectors who shot up their own air field and then hightailed it for parts unknown, whence they would return in two days to carry out the definitive D-Day strike and provide air cover for the invasion. This would preserve “plausible deniability” from the U.S. point of view, i.e. the fiction that it was solely a Cuban exile operation. The ploy didn’t work, of course. Two of the bombers landed in Key West with their machine guns obviously not having been fired, and the Cuban ambassador denounced the attack as a U.S. plot in the U.N. the same day. Why did the CIA bother with this subterfuge? Who did they think would be fooled? How would it explain the 1500 men who would storm the beach? Why not hold the air strikes until D-Day? The “defectors” story would have been just as convincing, or unconvincing, then as two days earlier. As it was, all the D-2 strike did was embarrass the U.S. and tip Castro and the whole world off to the likelihood of another attack. Taylor summarizes the controversy surrounding the D-2 strikes as follows: These strikes were for the purpose of giving the impression of being the action of Cuban pilots defecting from the Cuban Air Force and thus support the ficton that the D-Day landing was receiving its air support from within Cuba. The Joint Chiefs of Staff did not favor these D-2 air strikes because of their indecisive nature and the danger of alerting prematurely the Castro force. Mr. Bissell of CIA also later stated at a meeting on April 6 that CIA would prefer to conduct an all-out air strike on the morning of D-Day rather than perform the D-2 defection strikes followed by limited strikes on D-Day. Nevertheless, the political advantages led to their inclusion in the plan but with the realization that main reliance for the destruction of the Castro Air Force must be placed on the D-Day strikes.
What about the captured men?
Mass trials were held for the 1,189 men who were captured, and each was sentenced to 30 years in prison. After twenty months of negotiation, most were released in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine. (Two men were held for 25 years, Ramon Conte and Ricardo Montenero Duque.)
Is there any way the invasion could have been pulled off successfully?
In a desperate last-ditch effort to support the invasion, a limited air-strike was approved on April 19, but it would not be enough, and four American pilots lost their lives that day. At 2:30 p.m., brigade commander ?Pepe? Perez San Roman ordered radio operator Julio Monzon Santos to transmit a final message from brigade 2506. ?We have nothing left to fight with, ? San Roman said, his voice breaking, ?how can you people do this to us, our people, our country? Over and out.?
?There?s no question that the brigade members were competent, valiant, and committed in their efforts to salvage a rapidly deteriorating situation in a remote area,? writes Bissell. ?Most of them had no previous professional military training, yet they mounted an amphibious landing and conducted air operations in a manner that was a tribute to their bravery and dedication. They did not receive their due.?
?The reality,? writes Schesinger, ?was that Fidel Castro turned out to be a far more formidable foe and in command of a far better organized regime than anyone had supposed. His patrols spotted the invasion at almost the first possible moment. His planes reacted with speed and vigor. His police eliminated any chance of sabotage or rebellion behind the lines. His soldiers stayed loyal and fought hard. He himself never panicked; and, if faults were chargeable to him, they were his overestimate of the strength of the invasion and undue caution in pressing the ground attack against the beachhead. His performance was impressive.?
On April 20 Fidel Castro announced over Havana?s Union Radio that ?the revolution has been victorious? destroying in less than 72 hours the army the U.S. imperialist government had organized for many months.?
?We have always been in danger of direct aggression,? said Castro in a speech on April 23, ?we have been warning about this in the United Nations: that they would find a pretext, that they would organize some act of aggression so that they could intervene.
?The United States has no right to meddle in our domestic affairs. We do not speak English and we do not chew gum. We have a different tradition, a different culture, our own way of thinking. We have no borders with anybody. Our frontiers is the sea, very clearly defined.
?How can the crooked politicians and the exploiters have more rights than the people? What right does a rich country have to impose its yoke on our people? Only because they have might and no scruples; they do not respect international rules. They should have been ashamed to be engaged in this battle of Goliath against David?and to lose it besides.?
At the massive May Day celebrations in Havana, less than two weeks after the attack, Castro spoke again about the invasion:
?Humble, honest blood was shed in the struggle against the mercenaries of imperialism. But what blood, what men did imperialism send here to establish that beachhead, to bleed our revolution dry, to destroy our achievements, to burn our cane? [In the account of the invasion published by Castro, it was estimated that the invaders and their families between them once owned a million acres of land, ten thousand houses, seventy factories, ten sugar mills, five mines, and two banks.]
?We can tell the people right here that at the same instant that three of our airports were being bombed, the Yankee agencies were telling the world that our airports had been attacked by planes from our own airforce. They cold-bloodedly bombed our nation and told the world that the bombing was done by Cuban pilots with Cuban planes. This was done with planes on which they painted our insignia.
?If nothing else, this deed should be enough to demonstrate how miserable are the actions of imperialism.?
U.S. involvement in the Bay of Pigs attack was a direct violation of Article 2, paragraph 4 and Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, as well as Articles 18 and 25 of the Charter of the Organization of American States, and Article 1 of the Rio Treaty, which makes armed attacks illegal except in self-defense.
The Act of Bogota, which established the Organization of American States, provides that:
?No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatsoever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements.
?No State may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another state and obtain from it advantages of any kind.
?The territory of a State is inviolable; it may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or of other measures of force taken by another state, directly or indirectly, on any grounds whatsoever??
The invasion was planned by the U.S. The exile army was recruited, trained, paid, and supplied by the U.S. The planes, boats, tanks and military equipment used was supplied by the U.S. The provisional government was assembled and funded by the U.S. The first on the beach were American frogmen. American pilots were killed in battle. Thomas ?Pete? Ray, Riley Shamburger, Leo Francis Baker (who died in a gun battle after crashing) and Wade Gray. Joe Shannon, a Colonel in the Alabama Air National Guard and a surviving pilot, remembers them well, ?We had lived with the Cubans for three months, and we were so close to them that their cause became our cause.?
On April 20, President Kennedy discussed Cuba before the American Society of Newspaper Editors and continued to deny U.S. involvement. ??This was a struggle of Cuban patriots against a Cuban dictator. While we could not be expected to hide our sympathies, we made it repeatedly clear that the armed forces of this country would not intervene in any way.
?But let the record show that our restraint is not inexhaustible? if the nations of this hemisphere should fail to meet their commitments against outside communist penetration?then I want it clearly understood that this government will not hesitate in meeting its primary obligations which are to the security of our nation.?
In his book, COLD WAR AND COUNTER-REVOLUTION: THE FOREIGN POLICY OF JOHN F. KENNEDY, author Richard J. Walton puts that speech in perspective: ?Kennedy did not apologize; rather he issued threats. And he reiterated his amendment to the Monroe doctrine; that Latin American nations were free to choose their own governments, but only as long as they were not communist.”
Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story
By Peter Wyden
Cold War And Counter-Revolution: The Foreign Policy of John F. Kennedy
By Richard J. Walton
The Bay of Pigs: The Pivotal Operation of the JFK Era
By L. Fletcher Prouty
Documents Relating to American Foreign Policy ? Cuban Missile Crisis