Front Door to Cuba

1961

Front Door to Cuba

INVASION at Bay of Pigs

"Events are the ephemera of history."
Fernand Braudel

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Cuban Victory | Cuban Defeat

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."

Without supplies or air cover, the invading forces fell. To them, the lack of air cover was a direct betrayal. In the end, 200 rebel soldiers were killed, and 1,197 others were captured.

"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," wrote 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," wrote Schlesinger, "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 Radio Union 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 frontier 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 air force. 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 the actions of imperialism are."

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 (as Chester Bowles pointed out Secretary of State Dean Rusk on March 31) 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…"

These are the undeniable facts:
1. The invasion was planned by the U.S.
2. The exile army was recruited, trained, paid, and supplied by the U.S.
3. Planes, boats, tanks and all military equipment was supplied by the U.S.
4. The provisional government was assembled and funded by the U.S.
5. The first on the beach were American frogmen. 6. Four 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 the 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."

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