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OPERATION ZAPATA (Bay of Pigs, Cuba, 1961)

When Fidel Castro took power in Cuba by overthrowing the previous dictator, Fulgencio Batista, he was hailed as a liberator by the Cuban people themselves and became a hero to the American people as well. The triumphant arrival of Fidel Castro in Havana on, January 1, 1959, marking a victorious climax of file revolution he had led, was initially heralded in the United States as well as in Cuba. Castro was hailed as a champion of the people, a man who would lead a free and democratic Cuba. While some suspected that Castro had Communist leanings, the majority of the American public supported him. (2) The appointment of Philip Bonsal as U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, replacing Earl E.T. Smith, who was personally wary of Castro, was a clear signal that the United States was interested in amicable relations with the revolutionary government. On appointing Bonsal, President Eisenhower expressed the hope for an "ever closer relationship between Cuba and the United States."

By the end of 1959, however, United States-Cuban relations had deteriorated to the point that there was open hostility between the two countries. Castro soon took actions inimical to American interests and aligned his country publicly with the Soviet Union.

To begin with, the United States deplored the mass executions of officials of the Batista government that Castro had deposed. (5) In reply, Castro charged that the United States had never voiced objections to killing and torture by Batista. He said the trials and sentences would continue. In his revolutionary economic policies. Castro took steps that severely challenged the traditional role of the United States. In March 1959, the Cuban Government took over the United States-owned Cuban Telephone Co. in May. U.S. companies were among those expropriated in the Cuban Government's first large-scale nationalization action, also in May, the agrarian reform law resulted in the expropriation of large landholdings, many of them U.S.-owned.

Vice President Nixon met with Castro in Washington in April 1959. Castro left the meeting convinced that Nixon was hostile. For his part, Nixon recommended to President Eisenhower that the United States take measures to quash the Cuban revolution.

Disillusionment with Castro spread to significant elements of the Cuban populace. In June 1959, the chief of the Cuban Air Force, Maj. Pedro Diaz Lanz, fled to the United States, charging there was Communist influence in the armed forces and the Government of Cuba. A few weeks later, Manuel Urrutria Lleo, the President of Cuba, stated on Cuban national television that communist was not concerned with the welfare of the people and that it constituted a throat to the revolution. In the succeeding flurry of events, President Urrutria resigned after Castro accused him of "actions bordering on treason."

By the summer of 1960, Castro had seized more than $700 million in U.S. property; the Eisenhower administration had canceled the Cuban sugar quota; Castro was cementing his relations with the Soviet Union, having sent his brother Raul on a visit to Moscow, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, a top Castro lieutenant, had proclaimed publicly that the revolution was on a course set by Marx; and CIA Director Allen Dulles had said in a speech that communist had pervaded Castro's revolution.

The US public and government were gravely concerned about the creation of a communist state and member of the Soviet Bloc only seventy miles from its southern shores. Planning for an operation against Castro began in the Eisenhower administration. By the beginning of 1960, the last year of the Eisenhower presidency, it had become clear that Fidel Castro was a committed communist, and Eisenhower feared that he might infect the rest of Latin America. To deal with this perceived threat, the president directed the Agency to come up with a covert plan for getting rid of Castro.

On March 17, 1960, President Eisenhower quietly authorized the CIA to organize, train, and equip Cuban refugees as a guerrilla force to overthrow Castro. He authorized the Agency to attempt to unify and strengthen the opposition to Castro outside of Cuba, to build a guerrilla organization within the country, to mount a propaganda campaign against Castro, and to train a paramilitary force outside of Cuba to lead an invasion.

In the spring of 1960, Lloyd A. Free of the Institute for International Social Research at Princeton (no friend of the new regime, but a social scientist, withal) had carried out an extensive public opinion survey in Cuba. Polling techniques now common to American politics were already quite developed by scholars such as Free and his associate Hadley Cantril; in this case the technique was the "Self-Anchoring Striving Scale." One thousand Cubans were asked to rank their well-being at that time, five years previously, and five years hence. Cubans reported they were hugely optimistic about the future, and mostly dreaded the return of the previous dictator Fulgencio Batista. They would learn better, as peoples the world over would do as the earlier excitements of revolution gave way to Leninist terror and intimidation. But they had not learned yet. Free's report ended on an unambiguous note: Cubans "are unlikely to shift their present overwhelming allegiance to Fidel Castro."

Cantril later recalled: "This study on Cuba showed unequivocally not only that the great majority of Cubans supported Castro, but that any hope of stimulating action against him or exploiting a powerful opposition in connection with the United States invasion of 1961 was completely chimerical, no matter what Cuban exiles said or felt about the situation, and that the fiasco and its aftermath, in which the United States became involved, was predictable."

These data were public, and were dutifully provided to United States Government agencies. (The Cuban Embassy sent for ten copies.) It is difficult not to think that the information in the public opinion survey might have had greater impact had it been classified. In a culture of secrecy, that which is not secret is easily disregarded or dismissed.

In August 1960, after a diplomatic effort failed to get the Organization of American States to intervene in Cuba, the covert action plan took on greater urgency. By the late fall, however, the Agency had achieved mixed results. It had recruited a paramilitary force of Cuban exiles - including Cuban pilots for the aircraft that were to support the ground operation - and trained them in Guatemala, but efforts to build a credible guerrilla force within Cuba itself had produced relatively little.

Even the air cover for "Operation Phoenix" was to be flown by Cubans. The CIA obtained Douglas B-26s from the desert "boneyard" in Arizona and set up a training base deep in the Peten Jungle of Guatemala. Since the Alabama ANG at Birmingham had been the last unit to fly the plane, the CIA recruited everyone there from firefighters to flight surgeons. Eighty Air Guardsmen, serving as civilian volunteers, trained the exiles to fly old B-26 bombers and transports. The Guardsmen volunteered for combat missions after the exiles lost two B-26s on D-Day. Col Joe Shannon was sent to Guatemala in January 1961 to train the pilots. They were all Cuban defectors who had flown for Cubana Airlines or in the Cuban Air Force.

Many in Congress at the time were urging Eisenhower to "do something" about Castro. While there is no documentation to suggest that the administration saw fit to bring Congress into its plans in the fa1l of 1960, it is possible that it did so if only to answer this mounting concern. Dulles, at this point, was also still embarrassed by his failure to bring congressional leaders into the U-2 program and wanted to avoid repeating this mistake in the future. By the first of the year, the HAC subcommittee knew or suspected that something was afoot with respect to Cuba. At a meeting of the subcommittee on 6 January 1961, Dulles was asked whether the Agency was training Cuban exiles for an invasion. "He gave a fairly detailed picture of CIA action with respect to Cuba," Legislative Counsel John Warner later recalled, "mentioning the two-pronged program of propaganda . and the paramilitary effort, and indicating the number of Cubans being trained and the supply efforts and thebases." Four days later, the rest of Congress learned, courtesy of an article in the New York Times, that the United States (CIA was not specifically mentioned) was training anti-Castro guerrillas in Guatemala.

Eisenhower considered John Kennedy too young and inexperienced to be a serious presidential candidate (He referred to Kennedy as "the boy" and "young whippersnapper.") and resented the money and all the political manipulation that made him one. During the campaign he was incensed with Kennedy's claim that his administration was responsible for a missile gap that Eisenhower knew "damn well" didn't exist. When Kennedy won the 1960 election, Eisenhower considered it his own greatest defeat. As press reporters' adulation of the new president-elect grew, so did Eisenhower's dislike. "We have a new genius in our midst who is incapable of making any mistakes and therefore deserving of no criticism whatsoever," he once remarked with undisguised sarcasm.

On January 2, 1961, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Cuba. A period of increased tension followed. It was marked by an exchange of bitter statements by the new US President, John F. Kennedy, and the Cuban Premier. Castro charged CIA complicity in counterrevolutionary activity against his Government and publicly predicted an imminent US invasion.

In his state of the Union address on 30 January 1961, Kennedy said: "In Latin America, Communist agents seeking to exploit that region's peaceful revolution of hope have established a base on Cuba, only 90 miles from our shores. Our objection with Cuba is not over the people's drive for a better life. Our objection is to their domination by foreign and domestic tyrannies.... President Kennedy said further that " ... Communist domination in this hemisphere can never be negotiated."

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Page last modified: 22-11-2013 00:03:03 ZULU