April 17, Havana — In mid-April 1961, fifteen hundred mercenaries trained and financed by Washington set sail from a port in Miami and headed to Cuba with a single purpose: to destroy the newborn Revolution. In the early morning of April 17 of that year, five merchant ships, two war units, three barges, and four cargo boats touched Cuban soil at the Bay of Pigs in Matanzas.
As soon as the news broke, all of Cuba was shaken with anger. Historians assured later that there was not a single Cuban who was not ready to fight on the sands of Playa Giron, where the first impacts of the U.S. Martin B-26 Marauder bombing raids were felt.
“Imperialism has launched its cowardly aggression against Cuba.” Those were the first words heard by the Cuban people that morning on April 17 on all the country’s radio stations, from the voice of the then-Cuban president, Osvaldo Dorticos. “We will answer with iron and fire against the barbarians who despise us and want us to return to slavery,” he added in his message.
Operation Pluto, approved by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960 and inherited by President John F. Kennedy a year later, had a sentence of failure from the beginning. The invasion did not take us by surprise.
Since April 15, planes camouflaged with Cuban insignias had attacked three air terminals in the country in an attempt to show the international community that an internal rebellion was taking place in Cuba.
The whole country mobilized after those strikes. It was known that an invasion would take place, but it was unknown the exact place or where the mercenaries would disembark. Since the bombings of April 15, Cuban troops and militias, led mainly by Fidel Castro, were deployed throughout the island. Everyone was on the alert, waiting for the slightest sign of danger.
In Playa Giron, the Cuban resistance lived through some very intense hours. The residents of the surrounding communities keep intact in their memory those days of tension, fear, and courage. Nemesia Rodríguez, for example, does not forget the pain of losing almost her entire family to enemy bullets.
“On that day, I didn’t just lose my mother, I lost everything. During the invasion they killed my mother, my paternal grandmother was paralyzed from her waist down, my younger brother was shot in the leg and in the arm; my older brother was shot in the neck. Whenever April comes, I cry. Even though the years go by, the pain is still there,” Nemesia told the press a couple of years ago.
The mercenaries surrendered on April 19 at Playa Giron, just 72 hours after the beginning of the invasion. The tank in which Fidel was traveling neutralized the last redoubt of attackers in the early hours of that morning when imperialism suffered its first major defeat in Latin America.
“Our Victory at the Bay of Pigs is an important historical event. Due to that invasion, we proclaimed the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution,” recalled Fidel in a speech delivered on April 19, 1991.
“The secret of our victory: we fought for ideals. We knew how to defend sovereignty and independence at whatever price was necessary. On April 19, 1961, we lost our fear of our enemies,” Fidel added.
Today, it is not that unreasonable to think that this history could repeat itself. Cuba is under continuous hostilities from Washington and the region’s ultra-right-wing. Hate messages against the country’s main leaders or against any of its political decisions are a common practice. We are facing an unconventional war scenario that essentially seeks a regime change on the island and, if necessary, through a military invasion. But Cuba is ready to defend itself at whatever cost, as it did 61 years ago. We are not afraid.
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