A lesson in US arrogance

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A lesson in US arrogance

[The following is abridged from a Radio Havana broadcast marking the 30th anniversary of the defeat of the US invasion at the Bay of Pigs.]

On an April day in 1961, five US merchant ships moved in along the southern coast of Cuba. Their cargo was unusual — 1500 CIA-trained Cuban exiles, who took their orders from a handful of US military commanders. The ships also carried tanks, cannon, anti-tank guns and thousands of automatic rifles.

The five vessels were joined by two converted CIA landing craft. Their job was to overthrow Cuba's revolutionary government, then barely two years old. The target was Playa Girón, or the Bay of Pigs. The mission was called "Operation Pluto".

The CIA's plan to invade Cuba was initiated on January 18, 1960. The early participants in the plot were a diverse bunch; the one thing they had in common was the heady experience of installing and replacing governments. Jake Engler, like nearly all the men who devised Operation Pluto, was a veteran of the 1954 CIA-engineered coup that toppled the democratically elected Guatemalan government.

Other veterans of the Guatemala coup included field officers Tracy Barnes and E. Howard Hunt, as well as Richard Bissell. Bissell was also working on several assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and other top Cuban leaders, to put what he called some "extra sting" into the operation. A gangland-style killing was rejected in favour of poison pills, to be slipped into Fidel's drink by a hit man, employed by the CIA and the Mafia.

The CIA plan was approved on March 17, 1960, by President Dwight Eisenhower. It is worth noting that no US property in Cuba had been nationalised when President Eisenhower gave his order to overthrow the Cuban government, no Soviet petroleum had been imported, and the Soviet Union and Cuba had not even established diplomatic relations.

The Cuban exile leaders who had been rounded up by the CIA were not allowed to see the plans for the attack; they remained cloistered and under virtual house arrest until after the operation was over. Their first communiqué, issued on the morning of the invasion, was composed in Manhattan, by a man with the unlikely name of Lem Jones. The statement had been written in English; the primary task of the exiles was to translate it.

In his book The Bay of Pigs, the Untold Story, Peter Weiden interviews hundreds of people who participated in planning and carrying out the invasion. According to Weiden, US policy makers suffer from a chronic syndrome: they tend to grossly underestimate the capability and determination of those who commit the "sin" of not having been born American, especially those with darker skin.

He concludes that such episodes could certainly happen again, due to arrogance and wishful thinking on the part of US foreign policy specialists.