‘THANKS FOR Playa Girón. Before the invasion, the revolution was weak. Now it’s stronger than ever.” So Che Guevara wrote to President John F Kennedy in 1961 after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion mounted by Cuban exiles trained and led by the CIA and US armed forces.
The episode, inherited from Dwight Eisenhower, was a humiliation for Kennedy, after three months in office, and a warning not to rely on intelligence agencies. It encouraged the Soviet Union into a daring plan to place nuclear missiles in Cuba the following year, convinced that Kennedy would be too weak to resist. That led the world closer to a nuclear confrontation than ever before or since.
A Cuban delegation is in Ireland over the next week to give a series of seminars on the 50th anniversary of the invasion on April 17th, 1961. It certainly was a key event in consolidating the revolution.
Recruited from the Cuban exiles in Miami, the operation was carefully planned and executed with elaborate air support, but designed to avoid any appearance of US intervention. It aimed to establish a beachhead in the remote Playa Giron beach area, call in reinforcements and then help stimulate a mass uprising drawing on popular discontent two years on from the seizure of power led by Fidel Castro in 1959. The deposed dictator General Fulgencio Batista had sought refuge in Ireland four months after fleeing the island.
A subsequent CIA investigation found the invasion was poorly planned and executed, took insufficient account of Cuban support for the revolution and lacked an adequate base among Cuban exiles. It was a comprehensive failure, quickly overwhelmed by a rapid and well-organised Cuban military response, which secured victory in three days, albeit with nearly 700 military and civilian deaths and 5,000 injuries on the Cuban side. Those of the 1,200 invaders who survived were swapped the next year for $50 million worth of US medicines and health foods.
One fallout from the Cuban missile crisis the following year was a pledge by Kennedy not to invade Cuba, partly in return for Nikita Krushchev’s agreement to withdraw Soviet missiles from the island.
Castro was left with an abiding mistrust of both superpowers; realpolitik dictated that he keep up good relations with the Soviet Union in the following decades. But the Bay of Pigs remained a vital source of legitimacy for the revolution.