Playa de Giron at 50

By: Daniel Nardini

I remember visiting a village called Playa el Salado—about 12 kilometers outside Havana, when I noticed a series of old military trenches near the beautiful white sandy beach. At first I thought this trench work had been built by the Spanish during the Spanish-American War (1898-1899). But I later found out that it had been built by the Cuban Communist government in preparation for a possible invasion from the United States. From 1960 to 1961, the Cuban government under the newly installed leadership of Fidel Castro had built trenches and military fortifications in strategic parts of the island in case a U.S. or U.S.-led invasion should occur. That U.S.-led invasion did occur at a white beach sandy area called Playa de Giron. Prior to the invasion, the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) had planned for a brigade of Cuban exiles to invade Cuba, set up a provisional government once they had secured a beachhead, and then foment an uprising against Fidel Castro. The invasion took place on April 16, 1961.

The whole plan was a disaster from the very beginning. The element of surprise was already lost before the army of Cuban exiles, known as Brigade 2506, even landed. Once the Brigade landed at Playa de Giron (Bay of Pigs) they only had a two lane road that gave access to the area beyond. Worse, in a matter of hours the Brigade was surrounded by a Cuban military force ten times its size. No uprising by the general populace occurred, and because of this the U.S. government did not provide air-cover for the Brigade as promised. It was a virtual slaughter as Brigade 2506 battled an army with tanks and artillery. In three days the battle was over and over 1,500 survivors of Brigade 2506 were captured. These prisoners of war were exchanged by the Cuban government for medicine and other humanitarian aid with the United States.

But the greatest casualty in that invasion was any prospect of democracy in Cuba. If the invasion had never taken place, or had succeeded, there might have been a chance that democratic forces in Cuba might have been able to rise up against Fidel Castro and change things on the island. Instead Fidel Castro used the invasion to crush real or imagined opposition, introduce a complete Communist system of government, and firmly side with the Soviet Union. The failed invasion has led to Cuba being ruled by the Communist Party of Cuba ever since. We have seen the result of that rule—hundreds of thousands of Cubans locked away in gulags for their political and religious beliefs, and a couple of million forced to leave their country. Could the invasion have succeeded? We will never know—the Cuban freedom fighters of Brigade 2506 were most certainly let down by their CIA mentors.

To this day in Cuba the failed invasion is being seen as a triumph of the Cuban Revolution and the event is celebrated as a triumph against “U.S. imperialism.” At Playa de Giron there is a museum that talks about how Fidel Castro and the Communist Party of Cuba triumphed against Brigade 2506. Since Cuba is still a Communist state there is no history or opinion to the contrary—no mention that the men who fought for Brigade 2506 cared as much for their homeland Cuba and were prepared to fight to take back the country from the Communist forces. But then I have learned that history is whatever the Communist Party says it is.

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