Thursday, April 17, 2008

Remembering the Bay of Pigs: April 17, 1961

When the history of Cuba is written, and I don’t mean what passes as history these days, the Bay of Pigs invasion will perhaps get the respect it merits. Ridiculed, minimized, and pronounced a mistake, the entire sorry tale is told through American eyes in geopolitical terms. It was a misguided boondoggle, a leftover from the Eisenhower administration.

Omitted from these accounts are the tactical misjudgment and betrayal of JFK who changed the location away from the Escambray Mountains where there was already insurrection and did not call a halt to the whole operation, but only the vital air support without which there could be not the slightest chance of success against a well-supplied army many times larger. Researching the topic in the Barnard Library in the late 1970’s, I found “authoritative source” after “authoritative source” which ascribed the failure of the planes to appear to a problem with timing, i.e. synchronizing watches. For years, it was some variation of excuse. I was well into adulthood when for the first time I heard an acknowledgement of the same. It took a PBS special on the CIA to hear it said publicly. That was a sweet moment.

Omitted also are the men who fought and bled on Playa Giron. Passionate about their homeland and their freedom, they were men who took on overwhelming odds and defied a dictator, and men who, not too wisely, depended on the word of the United States Government. It is ironic, but what we need is a movie that tells the truth, the truth about Felix Rondon and Barberito and Commander Pepe San Roman and all those Humberto Fontova has written about:

Felipe Rondon was 16 years old when he grabbed his 57 mm cannon and ran to face one of Castro's Stalin tanks point blank. At 10 yards he fired at the clanking, lumbering beast and it exploded, but the momentum kept it going and it rolled over little Felipe. Gilberto Hernandez was 17 when a round from a Czech burp gun put out his eye. Castro's troops were swarming in but he held his ground, firing furiously with his recoilless rifle for another hour, until the Reds finally surrounded him and killed him with a shower of grenades.


Another boy named Barberito rushed up to the first one [Stalin tank] and blasted it repeatedly with his recoilless rifle, which barely dented it, but so rattled the occupants that they opened the hatch and surrendered. In fact, they insisted on shaking hands with their pubescent captor, who an hour later was felled by a machine-gun burst to his valiant little heart.

It is interesting that the failure of this invasion is often mocked, while another lost battle is glorified. Why its very location has become synonymous with determination and courage and gallantry. The Bay of Pigs is our Alamo. When the real story is told, it will be about fourteen hundred men who left family and future in the quest to liberate their homeland, who, out manned, outgunned and betrayed, took on a force many times their number and held them off for three days amidst the barrage of fire from tanks and planes, and who surrendered only when they ran out of ammunition.

In addition to the Fontova articles here and here, you can visit the Bay of Pigs Museum online here.

Cross-posted at Babalublog

No comments: