[The following is a commemorative from Radio Havana Cuba about the Bay of Pigs
invasion of Cuba. An interesting angle of the Bay of Pigs that we in the
U.S. don't really get to see. ]
On an April day in 1961, five US merchant ships moved in along the southern
coast of Cuba; their cargo was unusual - 1500 CIA-trained Cuban exiles, who
took their orders from a handfull of American military commanders. The ships
also carried tanks, cannon, anti-tank guns and thousands of automatic rifles.
The five merchant vessels were joined by two converted CIA landing craft en
route from Nicaragua; their job was to overthrow Cuba's revolutionary
government, which was barely two years old. The target was known as Playa
Giron, or the Bay of Pigs. The mission was called Operation Pluto; it had
been concocted one year earlier in Washington.
The CIA's plan to invade Cuba, using a force of Cuban exiles who were subject
to the whims of their US commanders, was initiated on January 18, 1960. Barely
one year later, the hopes of the exiles and their American overseers were
shattered on the beach at Playa Giron. The plot was hatched by a dozen men who
met in the Washington office of Col. J.P. Sing(?), chief of the CIA's Western
The beginnings of the plot were modest enough; thirty guerrillas were sent off
for training in Panama, then returned to Cuba to join what the CIA dubbed "a
typical Latin political upheaval." The early participants in the plot against
Cuba were a diverse bunch; the one thing they had in common was the heady
experience of installing and replacing governments. There was Jake Engler, who
had been CIA Station Chief in Venezuela when Fidel Castro was given a hero's
welcome during his visit to Caracas in 1959, only months after the Cuban
Revolution swept the Batista dictatorship from power. Engler wrote CIA
headquarters in December 1959, asserting that there was going to be a "real
problem" in Cuba; he offered his assistance in removing that problem.
Engler, like nearly all the men who devised "Operation Pluto", was a veteran
of the 1954 CIA-engineered coup that toppled the democratically-elected
Guatemalan government in just one week's time. A strike force of 150 exiles,
aided by pilots contracted out to the CIA, endeavored to remove the government
of Jacobo Arbenz; they achieved their goal with the help of a major CIA
disinformation campaign. Engler was also CIA station chief in Guatemala; he
apparently believed that a Guatemala-style operation, consisting of less than
two thousand men, could successfully overthrow the Cuban Revolution.
Engler was made project director for Operation Pluto; he set up headquarters
at the same Opa-Locka Florida firm that had been used in the Guatemala
operation. Other veterans of the Guatemala coup included field officers Tracy
Barnes and E. Howard Hunt, as well as the "Braintrust", Richard Bissell.
Bissell was also working on several assassination attempts against Fidel
Castro and other top Cuban leaders, to put what he called some "extra sting"
into the operation. A gangland-style killing was rejected in favor of poison
pills, to be slipped into Fidel's drink by a hit-man employed by the CIA and
the Mafia. The assassin was to be paid $50,000, but the attempt failed. Many
other unsuccessful attempts on the Cuban leader's life were later detailed by
a US Senate investigative committee, in a document known as the "Church
By March 1960, the CIA had formulated its program of covert action against the
Castro government. The plan was approved March 17 by President Dwight
Eisenhower. It is worth noting that no American property in Cuba had been
nationalized when President Eisenhower gave his order to overthrow the Cuban
government; no Soviet petroleum had been imported, and the Soviet Union and
Cuba had not even established diplomatic relations.
Operation Pluto called for the creation of a Cuban government-in-exile, to be
moved in at the heels of what the CIA called a "powerful propaganda
offensive." But the operation got off to a miserable start; the Cuban exile
coalition stitched together in CIA board rooms quickly came apart at the
seams. There was also the problem of secrecy. In fact, the operation was a
"secret" that was becoming more and more widely known. At the end of March
1960, US News and World Report, the New Republic and Tad Szulc of the New
York Times were all aware of the scheme, and eager to publish the story.
Reporters got most of their information from the streets of Miami, but the
US public was kept in the dark, subjected to cover-ups and outright lies
from their government.
At the turning point of the Bay of Pigs, when it became clear that the
invasion had been a fiasco, American newspapers carried CIA-planted stories
which denied that a landing had ever taken place. Even the Cuban exile leaders
who had been rounded up by the CIA were not allowed to see the plans for the
attack; they remained cloistered and under virtual house arrest until after
the operation was over. Their first communique, issued on the morning of the
invasion, was composed in Manhattan, by a man with the unlikely name of Lem
Jones; Jones was acting on orders from Howard Hunt. The statement had been
written in English; the primary task of the exiles was to translate it.
For years the exile brigade and CIA operators blamed their bad luck on the
lack of air cover and other tactical military questions, but the fact is that
the six planes of the Cuban air force, rebel army veterans and a barely
organized civilian militia were sufficient to drive the invaders into the
bay in less than 72 hours.
A more balanced assessment was made by CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkptrick;
his report on the Bay of Pigs fiasco has never been de-classified. However,
Kirkpatrick's devastating findings were reflected in a 1972 article in the
Naval War College Review; it was noted in the article that the CIA never
seriously studied the question of whether it was possible to overthrow the
Cuban revolution in the first place. "If there was a resistance to Fidel
Castro," wrote Kirkpatrick, it was mostly in Miami." He went on to say that
the revolutionary government did in fact have the strong support of most of
the island's people. (Radio Havana, April 1991)
From WORLD PERSPECTIVES magazine Box 3074 Madison WI 53704
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