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U.S. Interest in Cuba: From Annexation to Naval Base and Cold War Hostilities

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The interest of the United States in Cuba goes as far back as the pre-Civil War era when it wanted to annex Cuba as a slave state for its cotton. However, it was only in 1898 that Cuba was won from Spain following the Spanish-American war. While this lasted only until 1902, the U. S. was able to negotiate a long-term lease on the island at the Guantanamo Bay and turned it into a naval base. From that time until Castro took the helm, the second most powerful official in Cuba after the President was the U. S. Ambassador (Lafeber, 19 April 1986, p. 537).

In 1947, open hostilities with communism have begun. President Truman recommended to the U. S. Congress to stop the Russian aggression in Europe. This was contained in the Truman Doctrine (Ismael, 1965, P. 3212). This was followed by a U. S. -led food airlift to the western sector which the Russians were starving out with its Berlin blockade. Then, there was the assistance provided to the communists, by the way, eventually won and the active participation in the Korean War of 1950. While such actions were unpopular,, there was an apparent consensus that the U.

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S. should indeed show that it is not beyond having to use force to stop the expansionist plans of the communists. In 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President. The anti-communist sentiment was particularly rife at that time with Senator McCarthy charging practically everyone of being a communist, and succeeded in spreading fear and conflict throughout the country. In Asia, China was showing signs of aggression against Taiwan which then led to the US pledge of aid to any Southeast Asian Treaty Organization member who has to fight off communist advances.

In Latin America, communist influence was equally spreading. In 1959, on January 1st, Fidel Castro and his guerillas managed to overthrow Fulgencio Batista and the former Prime Minister and newly-elected President Dr. Andres Rivero Aguero (Telzrow, 2006). The United States was one of the first countries to acknowledge Castro’s ascendancy through an official note declaring “the sincere goodwill of the government of the United States towards the new government” (Welch, 1982, p. 29). Shortly thereafter, Philip Bonsal was appointed as the new US Ambassador to Havana.

Bonsal was the former ambassador to Bolivia where the Spanish-speaking career diplomat was able to establish a good relationship with the leftist administration. Four months later, in April 1959, Fidel Castro visited the United States where then Vice President Richard Nixon got to meet him. Nixon unilaterally proclaimed him to be a communist. Castro’s subsequent reforms were radical enough to align Cuba with communist party and collide with the Eisenhower Administration. There was the suspension of free elections, socialization of private business and the confiscation of U. S. property.

This was followed by the nationalization of businesses which produced staple products such as milk and milk and by-products, sugar, beer, toiletries, textiles and even banks (Blight & Kornbluh, 1999, p. 161). Given these internal developments in Cuba, the U. S. Department of State had started to draw up an agreement with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that would effect the downfall of Castro by using the Cuban faction opposed to him to make it look like an internal act. The situation was more alarming and an insult inasmuch as communism was practically taking root next door.

In December 1959, an outline of operations both in covert and propaganda form for the overthrow of Castro was drawn up by the CIA head of Western Hemisphere, J. C. King. A more comprehensive plan was drawn up by Jacob Esterline, former chief of the Guatemala station. On March 17, President Eisenhower approved a paper penned by the CIA entitled “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime” and the plan to bring down Castro was underway. People were put in place. David Atlee Phillips was made propaganda chief.

He was to run Radio Swan, the station that would be broadcasting propaganda against the Castro government. E. Howard Hunt was made chief of political action with the main task of organizing and preparing the members of the government that will replace Castro’s once it is overthrown. (Blight & Kornbluh, 1999, p. 159). By July 1960, Russia and the U. S. were exchanging barbs. The Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khruschev had declared its support for Castro to which Eisenhower adamantly replied that communism will not be allowed by the U. S.

to grow in the Western Hemisphere (Sierra, 2007, par. 7). On October 28, the United States recalled Ambassador Bonsal permanently back to Washington and followed later by officially breaking off all diplomatic relations with Cuba. Cuba soon began to receive arms from the Soviet Union (Telzrow, 21 August 2006, 37+). The incumbent administration’s interest was not only directed on Cuba in 1960. Internally, there was a more immediate concern on hand. It was campaign period for the Presidential elections. Vice President Richard Nixon was running against the popular Senator John F.

Kennedy. He realized the sensitivity of the issue about Castro and communist Cuba and rode to the hilt the American voters’ anti-Castro sentiment and their restlessness towards its resolution. Earlier in the campaign, he was already briefed by CIA Director Allan Dulles on intelligence matters as required by law and this briefing included the confidential information about the training of exiles from Cuba who will be mobilized for an assault on the island. Then, on the eve of a candidate's debate, Kennedy attacked Eisenhower's Cuba policy. He openly called for U. S.

support for the exiled anti-Castro forces and further exclaimed that thus far, these exiles had not received any support from the government. Kennedy knew that Nixon will not be able to counter this attack without compromising the secrecy of the plan. Nixon could only criticize Kennedy for the irresponsibility of his statements (Blight & Kornbluh, 1999, pp. 160-162). Meanwhile, the plan was steadily materializing. In May 1960, Radio Swan went on the air. Using a powerful transmitter, it broadcasted programs that were actually taped in Miami. The Cuban exiled forces were placed in Guatemala.

The incumbent President and dictator of Guatemala, Gen. Miguel Ydigoras owed his position to the CIA for enforcing a covert operation in 1954 against then Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz. He thus allowed an airport to be built in his country. Nicaragua’s Anastacio Somoza also provided a training base in his country (LaFeber, 16 April 1966, 537+). The Cuban exiled forces were collectively called Brigade 2506. They were originally being trained off the coast of Florida. Eventually, the size of the brigade grew to about 1,500 soldiers. The Castro government was not turning a blind eye against all these things that were going on.

Eventually, Castro had his chance and on September 26, 1960, he addressed the UN General Assembly where he charged the U. S. for setting up a broadcasting station in Swan Island which the U. S. lamely refuted by stating that it was a privately-owned station by a commercial broadcasting company. A month later, Cuba again went on the offensive again in the UN General Assembly this time with the Cuban Foreign Minister Raul Roa providing well-informed details on how the recruitment and training of these exiled forces were allegedly being conducted.

In his address, however, he did not call them exiles but as mercenaries and counter-revolutionaries. He stated that they were recruited, paid and sustained by the CIA by providing for them and their families (Sierra, 2007, par. 19). Later, in 2000, during a historic meeting of the personalities involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion, these exiles were once again referred to as mercenaries at which point Fidel Castro corrected him, “They’re brigadistas” (Dinges, 23 April 2001, 6). It was Castro’s strategy to turn the tide of foreign opinion against the Americans and later we will see how this tactic by Castro proved to be effective.

At the interim, a budget of USD13 million was approved by President Eisenhower. He also authorized the use of the Defense Department’s personnel and equipment but pointedly instructed that no American citizen must be used in combat. However, the CIA’s initial attempt at dropping weapons and supplies in Cuba failed miserably. The drop zone was missed and the ground agent was caught and shot (Blight & Kornbluh, 1999, 161). On January 1961, President John F. Kennedy took office. After campaigning heavily against lack of action on Cuba, he essentially trapped himself. In LaFeber’s (1986), Kennedy

“despised Castro and saw himself going head-to-head with Nikita Kruschev over which superpower would control the Third World. He was also passionately committed to a romantic view of counter-revolutionary operations and feared being labeled as less of an anti-Communist than Eisenhower, whose policies he had blasted only months earlier. So the attack went ahead on the night of April 17” (537+). Before the actual invasion happened, the plan changed several times due to several factors. Kennedy’s Department of State was afraid of the consequential impact on the US relations with Latin America (Lafeber, 1986, 537+).

White House adviser Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. remarked that while Kennedy was adamant about not using US soldiers directly, but the CIA acted on the conviction that he will change his mind (Dinges, 2001, 6). Everyone was of the assumption that the Cuban people would all rise spontaneously to get rid of Castro (Lafeber, 1986, 537+). Meanwhile, despite all the efforts to avoid having the US stamp on the exiled forces by having the training camps and airfield in Nicaragua and Guatemala, it was soon evident that the operation did not remain a secret for very long.

It was even already being discussed within cliques in the UN. On Jan. 11th 1961, the Joint Chief of Staff were consulted for the first time on. From the combined minds of the Department of Defense, the CIA and the JCS, Operation Bumpy Road was born. On Jan. 28th, newly-elected President John F. Kennedy was briefed. The concept of the plan as outlined in the memorandum prepared by two senior CIA officials in charge of the brigade, Jacob Esterline and Jack Hawkins. A small area was to be seized and defended at the initial stage.

There will be no more offensive tactics to be done until the expected uprising of the majority of the Cuban people begins or an overt operation by the US forces is (Blight & Kornbluh, 1999, p. 164). The landing was already plotted to be in Trinidad, which was in the southern coast of Cuba. This is located near Escambray Mountains. His would be an ideal site for Operation Bumpy Road because of the alternatives that it can offer. The expeditionary forces already have the goodwill of the population of Trinidad as the majority is anti-Castro.

In case the defense of the landing is compromised, they could turn to Plan B and flee into the mountains. There, a guerilla warfare can be fought. Thus, with this plan in mind, Brigade 2506 trained throughout 1960 under this plan. Richard Bissell, CIA Director of Plans, assessed the plans. He believed that there is a possibility of success such that they might survive and gain support for as long as they hold their ground. If the support from the Cuban people comes, then the US can make overt action plans on the pretense of backing the revolutionaries (Bight & Kornbluh, 1999, p.

164). Originally scheduled for Mach 5, 1961, the operation was put on hold until April after examination of all possible alternatives. This was due to the intervention of the State Department for diplomatic and political reasons. The U. S. still believes that it can get away with “plausible deniability” and Operation Bumpy Road can no way disguise U. S. complicity. Hence, despite argument from Bissel that postponement and possible plan revision will create undue tension and resentment among the brigade members, the March date did not materialize.

In fact a revolt by the exiles who were training in Guatemala did occur in late January 1961 with 500 resigning (Blight & Kornbluh, 1999, p. 164). Bissell concluded that this plan may be the only one where a covert operation is still possible in bringing down Fidel Castro. National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy was not in accord and instead recommended a trade embargo instead and allow internal rif to reach a boling point before launching the brigade. So, it was a Bumpy Road indeed as the rinidad Plan was rejected.

President Kennedy set down his conditions in preparing a new plan. First, it must be a silent landing and it is to be done at night. The CIA then presented three alternatives. There was a revision of the Trinidad Plan, there was to be a new target for landing which would be the northeast coast and the third alternative would be at the Bay of Pigs codenamed "Operation Zapata". The President chose the Zapata Plan liked but with certain changes particularly that it must have the appearance of being more of a guerilla-type of operation.

Thus, it was modified to a night landing (instead of a dawn landing) with air drops at first light. Kennedy questions the necessity of the air strikes. A compromise was agreed to limit the air strikes to two days before d-day simultaneous with a diversionary landing of 160 men in Eastern Cuba. These strikes will give the impression that the air strikes are those by Cuban pilots defecting from the Cuban air force and thus further giving lie that its an internal uprising. Bissell also reassures Kennedy that the Cubans on the island will join in an uprising.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations, Senator William Fullbright did not believe that such tactics will fool anyone. However, a vote from the advisers favored moving ahead (Blight & Kornbluh 1999, 165). Seven days before d-day, Esterline and Hawkins sent notice that they want to quit, that “the project was out of control” but Bissell prevailed upon them to stay. Three days before the invasion, Kennedy made a statement in a press conference that the US Armed Forces One day before the invasion, the number of plane were reduced from 16 to six planes as ordered by Kennedy to keep it minimal.

On April 16, the landing plan was approved by Kennedy. However, fearing international condemnation, Kennedy cancels the dawn air strikes until the beachhead airfield is in the hands of the landing force and completely operational and capable of supporting the raids. Bissell argued unsuccessfully that the landings will be seriously endangered without it. The air strikes were cancelled. Aboard the Blagar, CIA agent Grayston Lynch receives intelligence report that the Cuba air force will strike, it moves close to shore and delivers gunfire support to the landing troops.

The Brigade troops landed at 1’o clock in the morning. Later that morning, the Houston comes under air attack and is hit. Blight and Kornbluh (1999) gives a detailed account: “It goes aground with about 180 men on the west side of the Bay of Pigs - about five miles from the landing beach. At 9:30 AM, the freighter Rio Escondido is sunk by a direct rocket hit from a Sea Furya "with ten day's reserves of ammunition on board, as well as food, hospital equipment, and gasoline.

All crew members are rescued and transferred to the Blagar. Fighting rages throughout the day, with the brigade freighters withdrawing 50 miles out to sea. That evening, President Kennedy discusses the deteriorating situation with his advisers” (p. 168). On April 18, the Brigade Commander refused a call for evacuation. While at the UN on the same day, Ambassador Adlai Stevenson continued to deny that the United States had intervened militarily in Cuba.

Bissell, in direct violation of Kennedy's instructions, authorized American pilots to fly combat missions when a number of the Cuban pilots at Pueto Cabezos refused to fly. On April 19, two planes flown by U. S. pilots were shot down and the pilots killed. The invasion force were captured. About 130 were killed and 1,189 were taken prisoners. Cuba's casualties were about 157. Mass trials were held and the prisoners were each given a sentence of 30 years. Negotiations got underway and after 20 months, most were released in exchange for money, food and medical supplies (Sierra, 2007).

In the aftermath, Lymann Kirkpatrick, the CIA Inspector General, issued a report that pointed to Bissell and his aide Tracy Barnes as not having firm plans for the invasion and failed to advise Kennedy that a covert action is not at all possible. Bissell rebutted by issuing a memorandum of his own and putting the blame on Kennedy's withdrawal of the air strikes. On June 13, 1961, General Taylor, head of the Taylor Committee composed on Gen. Maxwell taylor, Atty. General Robert Kennedy, Adm. Arleigh Burke and Dir. Gen.

Of CIA Allen Dulles to investigate why the operation failed submits their report to President Kennedy that the operation was ill-considered and it was never ever possible that Zapatacan be run as a covert operation. If a reorientation of the operation had not been possible, the project should have been abandoned. (Blight & Kornbluh, 1999, p. 169). Apart from the reports of Kirkpatrick of the CIA and the Taylor Committee, and after more documents relating to the Bay of Pigs invasion surfaced and were declassified, the following can be concluded:

- the CIA made decisions on mere assumptions that the people would spontaneously assist in overthrowing Castro (Lafeber, 1986). - they failed to see that the exiles and the supporters were the loud minority while the majority were straddling the fence in a wait-and-see attitude inasmuch as Castro's government was still at its inception and already seemed to have been serious about its reforms in distributing the wealth concentrated on the few during the previous regime which was openly supported by the U.

S. - the United States could have lost sympathy from the locals since from 1898, they have exerted great influence over Cuba's internal affairs seemingly to the point of meddling in order to favor American businesses and the invasion was undeniably a US-backed operation the US did not trust its own invading force, not even telling the Cuban exiles the actual day of the invasion. One agent admitted that, "I don't trust any goddamn Cuban.

" (Lafeber, 1986) - aside from being trapped by his own campaign statements, the ongoing cold war forced Kennedy to take immediate if indecisive action in battling Cuba's Castro and ultimately the USSR's Nikita Khrushchev for the Western hemisphere - there were tactical errors such as mistaking for seaweed the Bay of Pigs coral reef which caused the craft to run aground and made the easy marks. - the US underestimated the Castro's security and defenses.

In a historic meeting in 2001 between the antagonists and the protagonists in the invasion which was held in Cuba, it was divulged that "a vast security network had been established and about 20,000 suspected dissidents were rounded up" which effectively squelched US expectations of a mass rebellion. Moreover, the Cuban air forces' better planes were camouflaged and the ones that were destroyed by the pre-d-day strike were decoys. (Dinges, 2001, p. 6).

- the CIA strategy is rooted on another assumption that no president, Kennedy included despite his statements against overt operations, will allow the United States to "go down in ignominous defeat" and will send in the Marines (as related by White House adviser Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. In Dinges, 2001). - there were no CIA broadcasts to announce the invasion (Telzrow, 2006). - from Jack Hawkins himself, Kennedy made the fatal error of placing “plausible deniability ahead of military viability (Hawkins 1996, p. 36+).

It would seem highly improbable that the world's greatest superpower would be defeated by a revolutionary government barely over a year in power. However, that is exactly what Cuba did under Fidel Castro's leadership. On April 19, 1961 Cuba was able to repulse an invasion led by 1,400 commandos of Brigade 2506 who arrived at Playa Giron (Giron Beach) from Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). Brigade 2506 was US-backed all the way. The planning and training was done by the CIA. They were armed and supplied by the US.

It was not a failure of the men of the invasion force who fought valiantly and refused to be evacuated. Given the circumstances surrounding the invasion, it was a "perfect failure" as it has now been dubbed for the spectacular defeat of the US. Overall, this is mainly due to the arrogance displayed by America and has now been immortalized in the Bay of Pigs. Bibliography Blight, J. G. & Kornbluh, P. (Eds. ) (1999). Politics of illusion: The Bay of Pigs invasion re-examined. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

Dinges, J. (2001, April 23). Back to the Bay of Pigs. The Nation, 272, 6. Hawkins, J. (1996, December 31). The Bay of Pigs operation was doomed by presidential indecisiveness and lack of commitment. National Review, 48, 36+. Ismael, F. L. (1965). The United States as a world leader. The Book of Knowledge, vol. 9, pp. 3206-3224. New York: Grolier Incorporated. LaFeber, W. (1986, April 19). Lest we forget the Bay of Pigs; the unlearned lessons. The Nation, 242, 537-539. Sierra, J. A. (2007).

History of Cuba. Retrieved August 15, 2007, from http://www. historyofcuba. com/cuba/htm. Telzrow, M. E. (2006, August 21). Bay of Pigs betrayal: The betrayal of the Cuba people by the CIA, State Department and staff members of the New York Times ranks as one of the America's darkest foreign-policy moments. The New American, 22, 37-39. Welch. R. E. (1985). Response to revolution: The United States and the Cuban revolution, 1959-1961. Chappel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

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