AFP / Adalberto Roque The first US-to-Cuba cruise ship in half a century glides into the port of Havana, on May 2, 2016
AFP / Adalberto Roque The first US-to-Cuba cruise ship in half a century glides into the port of Havana, on May 2, 2016

Today, Playa Giron is just another tranquil beach in northwest Cuba, but over fifty years ago, it was the scene of bloody battles that turned April into an important month in Cuban history.

Some 57 years ago today, the United States suffered its first military defeat in Latin America at the hands of inexperienced Cuban troops who took up arms to defend their country’s revolution at Playa Giron, in the Bay of Pigs, some 300 km southeast of Havana, in the Zapata Swamp.

The invasion by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles was the culmination of Operation Pluto, a plan hatched by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in close collaboration with the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. armed forces, and approved by President Dwight Eisenhower on March 17, 1960, and by his successor John F. Kennedy.

Its goal was to destroy the fledgling Cuban Revolution with a one-two punch: use air and naval power to establish a beachhead for the arrival of a provisional government from Miami, that would then demand a U.S. military intervention.

“The operation included taking over a civilian airport near Playa Giron, and establishing a civilian government that was already prepared in Miami,” veteran journalist Eduardo Yasell, who in 1961 worked as a war correspondent for the Verde Olivo (Olive Green) journal published by the Cuban army, told Xinhua.

On April 15, two days before the scheduled landing, U.S. planes painted over with Cuban insignia bombed three Cuban military airports to cripple Cuba’s air capabilities.
A day later, during the funeral of the Cubans killed in the attack, revolutionary leader Fidel Castro delivered a fervid speech at the Columbus Cemetery in Havana, for the first time proclaiming the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution.

The U.S.-trained Assault Brigade 2506, composed of about 1,200 Cuban exiles, landed at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, sparking the beginning of bloody clashes with Cuban troops led by Castro himself.

Castro had set up a command center at a nearby sugar factory, from where he ordered Captain Jose Ramon Fernandez to take Playa Giron in 72 hours.
“Fidel was the first to reach the front,” 83-year-old Yasell said.

By April 19, the Cuban troops had captured the last of the invaders, who short of ammunition and lacking air backup, were forced to retreat or surrender, signalling Cuba’s victory.
Seven American B-26 bombers were shot down and the invaders’ Houston and Rio Escondido ships were sunk.

According to Cuban figures, the invaders suffered 108 casualties and 1,197 were taken prisoner, while 156 Cuban soldiers died in the fighting.

Among the prisoners, five were sentenced to death and nine to 30 years in prison for various crimes, but the rest was returned to the United States in exchange for food, medicines and tractors.

Washington also pledged to pay 70 million U.S. dollars for material damages. However, the White House violated the pact, paying only 50 million in products that Cuba denounced as expired.
Cuba’s victory destroyed the myth of U.S. invincibility and consolidated Castro’s power, while the invasion radicalized the Cuban Revolution, pushing the new government closer to the Soviet Union.

The Bay of Pigs invasion was a key part of the history of tense ties between Havana and Washington, and the reason why the last two Congresses of the Communist Party of Cuba, in 2011 and 2016, were held in April, considered a historically critical month for Cubans.

It is also why April 19, the day Cubans mark the anniversary of the Playa Giron victory, was chosen for President Raul Castro and his generation of revolutionary fighters to hand over power to a younger generation of Cubans entrusted to uphold the principles their predecessors so valiantly fought for. Enditem


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