50th anniversary of the bay of pigs
THE ten prisoners who comprised the delegation sent to Washington to discuss the payment of compensation for the April Bay of Pigs invasion returned to Cuba, May 27, 1961. They were taken to the naval hospital where the mercenary prisoners were being housed. They were allowed to bring packages sent by families in the States. The negotiations had not, however, been easy.
The ten were: Waldo Castroverde Giol, Brigade 2506 paratrooper; Ulises Carbó, former assistant editor of the newspaper Prensa Libre; Gustavo García Montes, lawyer, artillery loader during the invasion, nephew of Batista's former prime minister, Yoyo García Montes; Ceferino Álvarez Castrillón, artilleryman; Mirto Collazo Valdés, former dictatorship military officer; Luis Enrique Morse, captain of the Houston, sunk during the attack; Hugo Sueiros Ríos, former dictatorship military officer and battalion leader; Juan José Peruyero, company chief; Félix Eloy Pérez Tamayo, former Batista sergeant and Reinaldo Pico. They had been elected as representatives from each company within the invading brigade, to discuss Cuba's proposal with the United States government.
The first shadows cast over the prisoners' prospects brought a swift reply from Fidel rejecting State Department statements. The Cuban Prime Minister said that if the U.S. government continued to describe as an exchange, what was in reality compensation, he would withdraw his offer.
The delegation reported that a negotiating committee had been established which included Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of the former President; Milton Eisenhower, brother of former President Eisenhower, and trade union leader Walter Reuther.
Fidel declared that Cuba would negotiate with the committee chaired by the widow of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The White House announced that President Kennedy had participated in the creation of the private committee which would acquire the 500 tractors and asked the public to make contributions.
The U.S. government statement added that the administration was neither supporting nor standing in the way of this "totally private" group effort, adding that the President himself would probably contribute to the fund as a private citizen.
The issue had unleashed a polemic debate in the U.S. Several Senators criticized Kennedy for showing interest in the subject. Former President Truman, however, called on the government to officially assume responsibility for the delivery of the 500 tractors, "if it wants to have it done successfully."
Republican Party politicians, however, such as Kennedy's opponent Senator Barry Goldwater, bitterly attacked the President. Years later, witnesses gave more detailed accounts of this. One of Kennedy's advisors, Arthur M. Schlesinger, wrote that the Roosevelt committee was created by Kennedy, who spoke personally with all the participants to assure their cooperation. He added that Kennedy tried to create a bipartisan group with two Democrats (Eleanor Roosevelt and Reuther) and two Republicans in order to avoid criticism, but George Rommey, president of American Motors, had refused.
Nevertheless, with an exchange of messages, negotiations between the revolutionary government of Cuba and U.S. authorities through the Citizens Committee were, for all practical purposes, made official.
The Committee's first message asked for confirmation of Fidel's offer to free the prisoners if reparations were paid. In his response, Fidel criticized those in the United States who opposed the payment despite the fact that no one challenged the 45 million dollar cost of the Bay of Pigs invasion, covered by the U.S. Treasury.
Fidel suggested that in order to facilitate the negotiations, it would be convenient for a delegation from the Committee to travel to Cuba, which was accepted. He emphasized that the delegation should be empowered with the authority to discuss and decide the amount and character of the reparations which Cuba demanded.
The sociologist C. Wright Mills praised Fidel's generosity and said that it demonstrated once again his international stature. The author of Listen,Yankee, a critique of the U.S. attitude toward Cuba, reiterated that, if it were physically possible, he would be fighting alongside Fidel.
In the meantime, in Washington Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, announced his decision to order a Congressional investigation into the status of some invaders imprisoned on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, some rescued from Caribbean waters after the defeat, and others who remained held in Retalhuleu and Florida camps.
According to the news agency AP, it was assumed that the U.S. did not want anyone talking with these survivors, before the furor over the debacle subsided.
In effect, all sorts of opinions existed among the survivors and relatives living in Miami at the time, representing all sorts of interests. Not all of the survivors were to be found safe and sound in the revamped naval hospital east of Havana. Many perished along Cuba's coast and in the depths of the Caribbean Sea. Others were prisoners as well, but of the United States, like Rodolfo Nodal Tarafa, one of the 17 who refused to accept the leadership of Artime and San Román imposed by the CIA and were imprisoned in the jungle of Peten in Guatemala. If their accounts are to be believed, they were treated barbarically by CIA agents.
The unprecedented scene which occurred at the Miami airport as the reparations committee returned was no surprise. Groups of people of Cuban origin shouted, "Communists!" to the committee chaired by the widow of former President Roosevelt, who was completing a mission for the U.S. government. Others on hand protected the group.
The U.S. press appeared to understand that Fidel had put the United States in an embarrassing situation, regardless of which route was chosen, paying the compensation or opposing it.
General Lauris Norstad, Commander in Chief of Allied Forces in Europe, spoke for many when he told a friend that "the Bay of Pigs was the worst defeat the U.S. had suffered since the war of 1812." (1)
James Reston wrote in the New York Times, "For the first time in his life, John F. Kennedy has been given a public switching. He has faced illness and even deaths during his 43 years, but defeat is something new for him and the one in Cuba was worse, it was a blunder and a humiliation." (2)
(1) Jim Rasenberger. The Brilliant Disaster. Scribner.
New York. 2011, p 314.
Quotes retranslated from the Spanish