Cuba’s victory at Playa Giron and the U.S.’s moral punishment

Photo: Bill Hackwell

April 19, 1961, is marked in the Cuban popular imagination as a day of national pride. Barely 72 hours after the landing of 1500 U.S.-backed mercenaries at Playa Giron (Bay of Pigs) in Matanzas, Cuba demonstrated to the world its willingness and determination to defend with arms the revolutionary process initiated on January 1, 1959. Witnesses of that three-day battle remember the complexity of the combat. Although Cuba was expecting the attack, it was surreal that it was really happening.

The memory of the roar of bullets and tanks hurts. The Zapata Swamp was stained with blood and gunpowder. The consequences of that mercenary incursion are shocking: 118 people lost their lives, many of them peasants and children of the area. Three hundred and sixty people were wounded, and 1,202 mercenaries were captured.

“Do not let our war tanks stop until the mats are soaked in the beach water, because every minute that those mercenaries are on our soil it is a threat to our homeland,” the maximum leader of the Revolution, Fidel Castro, had ordered. And so it was. The forces of the Rebel Army, the National Revolutionary Police, the popular militias, and the peasants residing in the area closed ranks and drove the invaders back to the sea. That feat marked the first military victory against U.S. imperialism in Latin America.

Fidel in a tank at the Bay of Pigs.

The aggression was organized by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and had the air and naval support of the Army of that northern power whose government has intended, since then, to reverse the process of social transformations in Cuba. Most of the mercenaries were Cuban emigrants who were recruited and trained by the CIA after the triumph of the Revolution to overthrow the revolutionary government of the island.

In an act of commemoration for the victory’s anniversary in 1965, Fidel affirmed that the victory of the Bay of Pigs “marked the day when the plans drawn up by the brainy generals of the Pentagon, by the luminaries of the Central Intelligence Agency, fell apart.”

This is the best-known story of the invasion. What is less well known is what happened to the mercenaries after the victory. Let’s remember that the attack was doomed to failure before the first shot was fired. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, from the White House, canceled at the last minute the air strikes that would seek to “neutralize” the Cuban air force, and he did so because the U.S. wanted to camouflage its true role as the driving force behind the invasion. The mercenaries, armed to the teeth and loaded with the coffers of the White House money, were left alone to avoid damaging Washington’s image. But this did not take long to come to light.

The book “Battle for Indemnity” by Verde Olivo Publishing House tells the story of the political process that followed the victory. Authors Acela Caner Román and Eugenio Suárez Pérez explain that imperialism was forced to pay a war indemnity for material damages for the first time in U.S. history. This revealed in no uncertain terms the responsibility of the U.S. government for the invasion, despite its attempts to cover it up. That agreement is considered Cuba’s second victory in the Bay of Pigs.

It has often been said that once the victory at Bay of Pigs was won on April 19, 1961, the mercenaries who invaded the country were exchanged for baby food after a negotiation with the government of President John F. Kennedy. However, this was not exactly what happened. During the trial of the mercenaries, the majority of the participants supported the commander-in-chief’s idea of requesting compensation. Although the people of Cuba demanded the death penalty for the mercenaries, “Fidel, rightly, convinced everyone that the important thing was to get compensation, and he got it,” according to the book.

President Kennedy’s administration never paid 100% of the agreed indemnity, the authors of “Battle for Indemnity” explained and recalled the words of the Commander in Chief concerning the victory: “What we wanted was for them to pay us, not because we needed the money, but because it represented the recognition of the U.S. Government of our revolutionary victory. It was a moral punishment from us to them. It was our second victory.”

Source: Resumen Latinoamercano  – English

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