BY JOSÉ RAMÓN FERNÁNDEZ
I see the faces of many old compañeros and combatants--if not old in age, they are longtime comrades-in-arms, not only from the sands of Playa Girón but also from the diplomatic and political battle that was waged at the same time.
This book that we present today contains Fidel Castro's call to the Cuban people on April 15, 1961, in response to the treacherous air attack by U.S.-sponsored mercenary forces on the San Antonio Air Base, the Ciudad Libertad Base, and the airport in Santiago de Cuba, as well as Fidel's speech at the ceremony in honor of those who died on April 16, 1961.
It includes the call to arms issued in Santiago de Cuba on April 15 by compañero Raúl Castro, now General of the Army and minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.
It also contains the closing words of the speech given for the same purpose by Che Guevara on April 15, 1961, in Pinar del Río, where he had been named to head up the defense of that region of Cuba. It reproduces the communiqués--all signed by Fidel except for one signed by the general staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces--that were issued between April 17 and 19, where from the very beginning the people were thoroughly informed of what was happening.
It has my own testimony--forgive me for speaking in the first person--given on July 12, 1999, before the People's Provincial Court in the City of Havana, in Cuba's lawsuit against the empire for the human damages inflicted on us. It also offers details on the invading U.S. forces, a glossary, as well as other items.
It contains Fidel's speech of May 1, 1961, in the Plaza of the Revolution. And, finally, it contains something of great historical importance: Fidel Castro's speech to the Cuban people on April 23, 1961, where in an extensive televised presentation he described the background, alleged arguments, and all the mechanisms that were utilized by imperialism, using maps to explain in detail everything that happened at Girón.
As Mary-Alice said, this is a book that truly falls under the mantle of the battle of ideas. The goal of that battle is to make our people stronger every day, to create a system of information and instill convictions among our youth about their responsibility for the continuity of the Cuban Revolution.
I won't go into the details of the battle here, of course. In his televised speech on April 23, 1961, Fidel gave a summary of the background and explained that it was a typical attack, combining direct and indirect action against Cuba. He compared it to the one that overthrew the government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 as well as many other interventions that the Empire carried out in various countries of Our America during the previous century. He referred to the entire history of U.S. aggression against Cuba.
The United States began attacking the revolution even before it triumphed on January 1, 1959.
They supported the Batista tyranny right up to the dictatorship's final days, supplying arms from the United States or from the Guantánamo Naval Base, permitting and assisting assassination attempts against Fidel in the Sierra Maestra itself. In other words, the assassinations and attacks did not begin after the triumph of the revolution, but instead before it.
In the final stage--which is described in a book titled The Winds of December1 --the imperialists used every means to try to prevent the revolution from taking power and, if it were to take power, to ensure it was influenced by those alien to the truly revolutionary forces so that its program could not be carried out.
Choice of invasion site not an error
Their choice of the Playa Girón region was not an error. It is an area that can be easily isolated and defended because of the lack of access routes.
Girón represents the culmination of a stage of U.S. attacks, just as the 1962 October Crisis was the continuation of Girón through Operation Mongoose and the culmination of a period of attacks that have never ceased. Since then the blockade has been tightened, the so-called two-track policy has been carried out together with the Torricelli Act,2 the Helms-Burton Act, and many other measures.
Mary-Alice spoke about the "silver bullets." It must be said that they have been trying of late to break the revolution from within through different methods, attempting to weaken it, while at the same time maintaining the blockade, attempts at intimidation, attacks, propaganda, and their diplomatic struggle through various means. Imperialism has carried out an amoral, cunning campaign of disinformation and measures aimed at discrediting the revolution and its leaders.
The victory at Girón was a glorious victory for the Cuban people, at a cost of 176 dead: 151 in combat and the others in attacks during the preceding days--those on April 15, and those in the zones of operations, even prior to the arrival of Cuban forces there, when they used their planes to bomb, strafe, and attack transport vehicles, villages like Pálpite, and other places, causing numerous deaths.
Declassified CIA documents show what happened next and illustrate the continuity. It's worth noting that this information is not secondhand nor are we its source. By May 4, 1961, an interdisciplinary, that is, interagency, group had been created in the United States, which worked up a plan that in the following months became known as Operation Mongoose. This plan was directed by General [Maxwell] Taylor, and its assistant political advisor--actually its driving spirit--was the brother of President Kennedy, U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy. In other words, this aggression did not cease, and it culminated with the plans for a direct attack on Cuba that were thwarted by the outcome of the "missile crisis."
An academic conference on Playa Girón was held in Havana on March 22-24 of last year. The conference was well attended, and most of it was broadcast on Cuban television. About 10-12 of us here today also participated, providing testimony, giving information, or observing the meeting. These include compañero Carlos Lechuga, who at the time defended our flag in the United States by representing our country at the United Nations, as well as General Samuel Rodiles and several others who are also here in this room.
Conference participants from the United States included several of Kennedy's close associate leaders. Among them were Arthur Schlesinger and Richard Goodwin, special assistants to the president (I should add that in June 1961 Goodwin was head of the interdisciplinary group that prepared Operation Mongoose); John Nolan, an assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy; Robert Reynolds, chief of the CIA station in Havana, which came to have more than 500 officers assigned to the fight against Cuba--a station that, according to the report by CIA inspector general Lyman Kirkpatrick, had more agents than an entire CIA division; Mr. Samuel Halpern, the CIA's Cuban affairs officer, who previously had been CIA chief in Asia and had been brought over to participate in this activity in conjunction with Operation Mongoose; and Wayne Smith [head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba during the Carter administration]. Several of the invading mercenaries who had been members of Brigade 2506 also participated.
I received a criticism of a political, not factual, nature because of the term I used on one occasion at the conference referring to mercenaries. However you portray them, they are, nonetheless, mercenaries.
Any Cuban who ends up defending a foreign flag is a mercenary. And if that foreign flag directs him to attack his own homeland and he receives money for it, I can find no other word in the dictionary or in the language we all use other than mercenary--even if for political reasons at a certain time, and in a dialogue of respectful reflection such as that one, we may use a different term. And even if by their subsequent attitude and conduct they deserve our respect and recognition. In the conference organizing committee we spent hours debating what term to use for those arriving from the Brigade, and, at my urging and with everyone's approval, we decided to call them "invaders."
After Girón, about 1,180 of the 1,197 mercenaries were exchanged for food supplies. The rest were tried for crimes committed prior to Girón.
In dealing with the Brigade we observed the Geneva convention. We treated them truly as prisoners: feeding them, providing medical attention, treating them respectfully without abusing them physically, morally, or verbally. And we negotiated their return to the United States.
After returning to the United States, they formed an association of so-called veterans of the Brigade. Today some of them have taken positions of reflection and understanding and advocate dialogue, while others are uninvolved or are active only to a limited degree. And some, such as Luis Posada Carriles and many others, are enemies and assailants, pirates who did not appreciate the magnitude of the pardon and the consideration they were shown despite being traitors, and they continue to carry out actions against Cuba.
Of the 1,500 who came, we took nearly 1,200 prisoners. In some documents they admit to having suffered 114 deaths. Others never landed; they remained on the ships.
The acknowledged leader of the brigade was Marine Colonel Jack Hawkins, who participated in and directed landings in the War in the Pacific and later commanded a U.S. unit at the landing at Inchon, a port on Korea's coast, which was carried out when the invading forces attempted to defeat and take the northern part of Korea.
The true leaders were members of agencies of the U.S. government, the Empire. It is they who from day one paid them out of the taxes of U.S. citizens. They were the ones who organized, led, armed, and carried out that attack. They did so subsequently in the lesser-known Operation Mongoose, which we hope will become better known after the conference to be held this October on the 40th anniversary of the "missile crisis," which is already in preparation.
The United States was the promoter. And this was admitted by Kennedy when he said he alone was responsible and, alluding to the outcome of the attack, stated that victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan--thus raising an umbrella to shield himself from everything that was raining down on him in the press.
Battle of ideas
I want to stress one point here: What is interesting about the book is that it is centered on the fight we are waging so that those who did not live through these events--above all, the newly born and those not yet born--may learn about the nature of the enemy we face, and I say "enemy" rather than "adversary." They should know what it is we are defending with the utmost clarity. They should know what really happened then and what has been happening up until now.
I mean this in all honesty, because I believe there is no task more important among our people today, strategically speaking, than this struggle in the realm of thought--as Jose Martí said in his time--this "battle of ideas" that we are carrying out, which is the guarantee that we will be truly invulnerable to any attack of any kind.
We see how they attack us in the [United Nations] Human Rights Commission, with their terrorism against our country, and in all other areas. They talk about terrorism--I would like for someone to tell me what greater terrorism there is than the war that has been waged against Afghanistan. And now we've heard from the president's mouth that when they finish in Afghanistan they'll move on to Iraq, as well as Iran, North Korea, and other countries. What greater terrorism is there than that? We could also talk about another terrorism--that of Israel and its attacks on Palestine. It is horrifying and sad, and leaves one with a sense of helplessness, to see on television what is happening there every day.
Moreover, Cuba is the greatest victim of state terrorism: La Coubre; the plane that was blown up in midair over Barbados;3 what our country's sons and daughters have endured for years along the coast, in factories, in hotels. More than 40 years of state terrorism against Cuba!
They speak of human rights, but for years now we have been major victims in that regard. It's outrageous. Recently we all heard what a South American foreign minister went to do in Washington and what he later stated about the Human Rights Commission,4 which is to take up this issue once again next week.
Five Cuban prisoners in U.S.
What injustice could be greater than that of the five prisoners we have in the belly of the Empire?5 Antonio, Ramón, Gerardo, Fernando, and René did not violate any laws and were not spying on state activities. They worked to find out what the terrorist mafia was trying to do to us, so that we could prevent it from happening, prevent acts of terrorism. In the Florida courts, most of which are known to be spurious, enemies of Cuba have had to make up the biggest lies and have sentenced them in a truly criminal, sadistic fashion. A prosecutor even said that if he could--because he read the statement by one of our heroes in the trial--he would seek a 100-year prison sentence. It is a veritable act of vengeance, as is the war in Afghanistan, irrespective of the criminal, unjustifiable, and wholly contemptible nature of what happened on September 11 when the World Trade Center and other facilities in the United States were attacked.
I am holding in my hand the testimony of these compañeros. The more we understand what they did, become familiar with the trials, read the testimony, and learn about the sentences and under what conditions they were sent to serve them, we realize we confront enemies who are truly amoral, criminal in their behavior against our people both in general and in specifics.
It's worth mentioning that several cruise ships with U.S. college students have been coming to Cuba from the United States. You must have seen on television and in the press that Fidel has been meeting with the young people who arrive on these cruise ships. It's a program established by U.S. universities where young people from various campuses make this journey visiting different countries, receiving daily classes on board in several subjects. At the end of the semester-long cruise, if they pass the exams on the subject matter that has been taught on board during that time, they are given valid credits in their courses of study.
Here in Cuba they are offered 8 to 10 options: visits to research centers, farm cooperatives, social organizations, hospitals, schools, etc., as well as a visit to Playa Girón. I was in charge of attending to the two groups that went to Playa Girón. These young people are of different nationalities, mostly Americans, of different skin colors, religious beliefs, and political opinions. They have only one thing in common: their absolute ignorance of Cuba and what is happening in Cuba. This is because of what the U.S. government and media have done.
Imperialism fears Cuba's example
The Empire's fear is such that it even barred one of the groups from having a meeting with Fidel. In other words, they fear ideas, they fear Cuba's example, which despite all our difficulties is a valid example for all peoples.
In our efforts to convince the young people we spoke to in Girón, we showed them declassified CIA documents such as the Kirkpatrick report6 and other documents, such as a famous one that refers to possible actions to justify an invasion of Cuba. These are documents declassified by them. I don't think anyone would dare argue that they are falsified, or that it's all been made up.
We've set up displays with the books we have, so these young people may read them, and we've had extensive discussions with them in the museum at the Australia Sugar Mill, at Playa Larga, and at Playa Girón. We weren't talking about a battle, but rather the heart of this question--the permanent and unceasing U.S. aggression that is carried out by all means against our Cuban Revolution. That's why this battle of ideas is so important, and that's why it's so important to educate our young people.
These youth from the United States are often surprised at the schools, at the health-care system, at the fact that everyone here knows how to read and write, at the fact that people move around freely, that they can go wherever, whenever, and however they want, at the warm and friendly nature of the Cuban people.
Their ignorance of Cuba, the revolution, and socialism is astonishing. When you speak to them about the elections in Cuba, they ask, "You mean there are elections here?" I tell them yes, and that they're fairer, more democratic, and have greater voter participation than elections in the United States. In Cuba the party never chooses or designates anyone to be elected.
One of the things we are proud of is the courage of our people: at Girón, during Operation Mongoose, where there were hundreds and hundreds of acts of terrorism and attacks of various types, and during the October Crisis. At no time did anybody waver, and this firmness and confidence is what allows us to remain victorious.
Fidel was the strategist who conceived of the struggle for the revolutionary transformation of Cuba, who led the attack on the Moncada garrison and the fight in the Sierra. It's through his leadership that we triumphed. He personally directed operations at Girón, he led the Cuban people during the October Crisis, and he continues to do so today, acting intelligently, firmly, and audaciously in defense of the revolution under very difficult and complex conditions.
I will close by saying the same thing I said last March 24, before nearly all the Americans and many of the Cubans who attended the meeting on "Girón: 40 Years Later." At Playa Girón itself I told them, "Everything that we have done in the past, everything we have done up to now, and everything we are prepared to do in the future has as its goal the defense of our sovereignty."
1. The Winds of December, by John Dorschner and Roberto Fabricio (New York: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1980).
2. Washington's "two-track" policy was explicitly embodied in provisions of the so-called Cuban Democracy Act, also known as the Torricelli law after New Jersey Democratic congressman Robert Torricelli, enacted in 1992. "Track one" refers to the tightening of the U.S. economic embargo, while "track two" refers to provisions that--in the guise of promoting the "free flow of ideas" between the United States and Cuba--aim to corrupt and buy off Cuban academics and professionals. The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, also known as the Helms-Burton Act, contains a number of provisions that further tightened the embargo.
3. On March 4, 1960, the French ship La Coubre, bringing Belgian munitions purchased with contributions from Cuban workers, blew up in the Havana harbor, killing 81 people. On October 6, 1976, a Cubana Airlines plane was blown up in midair over Barbados after counterrevolutionaries planted a bomb. Seventy-three were killed.
4. In January 2002, in face of Argentina's catastrophic economic situation, that country's foreign minister, Carlos Ruckauf, visited Washington seeking a $15 billion loan package in exchange for agreeing to imperialist demands for economic and political concessions. While there he stated that his government would work with Washington "to free the Cuban people" and collaborate with U.S. officials at the upcoming UN Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva "to sanction the only dictator left in Latin America."
5. Antonio Guerrero, Ramón Labañino, Gerardo Hernández, Fernando González y René González are five Cuban revolutionaries who were framed up and convicted last year in a federal court in Miami on charges including "conspiracy to commit espionage" for the Cuban government and, in one case, "conspiracy to commit murder." They were given sentences ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment. Their actual "crime" was collecting information on right-wing counterrevolutionary groups that, with Washington's knowledge and complicity, have been responsible for countless violent attacks on Cuba. The five have been transferred to federal prisons in different parts of the United States.
6. The October 1961 assessment of the Bay of Pigs defeat by CIA inspector general Lyman Kirkpatrick, to which Fernández refers, is reprinted in Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba, edited by Peter Kornbluh (New York: The New Press, 1998). The book also contains other previously top secret documents of the Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy administrations leading up to the abortive invasion, as well as a detailed chronology of these events.
Book on U.S. defeat at Bay of Pigs is presented in Havana
'Truths that must be told today'
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