“For progressives and anti-imperialists all over the world, the mention of the Bay of Pigs — known in the Spanish-speaking world as Playa Girón — evokes joy and celebration,” wrote Carmelo Ruiz. “The United States, an empire accustomed to imposing itself even in the farthest corners of the world, could not prevail and enforce its will on an island country 90 miles away from its shores. The empire could be defeated after all.”
In mid-April, 1961, the island nation of Cuba repelled a US military invasion at Playa Girón and captured over 1,200 invaders. Cuba’s victory, in self-defense, was a direct result of the people’s popular support for the Revolution, which was not anticipated by the invading army. In fact, the US planners hoped or imagined that the attack would trigger the people to rise up against the Cuban Revolution. Instead, the opposite happened.
The people’s militia
Following the 1959 Revolution, Cuba had armed and trained its people to form a civic-military alliance to defend their land. Cuba faced US attacks from day one of the Revolution — in addition to the all-out military assault at the Bay of Pigs, there were hundreds of documented terrorist attacks, bombings, and assassination attempts from 1959 onwards.
On April 15, 1961, three Cuban airports were bombed by planes flying false Cuban decals that took off from CIA landing strips in Somoza’s Nicaragua, killing eight Cubans. Under the United Nations Geneva Convention, flying a false national flag constitutes the war crime of perfidy.³ The next day Fidel Castro told the people of Cuba to prepare for a full scale invasion, and declared the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution.
On April 17, 1961, about 1,500 troops armed, equipped and trained by the CIA, approved by first Eisenhower and then JFK, invaded the island of Cuba. The ground troops were supported by tanks, artillery, and army jeeps that disembarked from fourteen US army transport planes and five cargo ships, accompanied by a squadron of B-26 bombers.
The invading force was immediately spotted by Cuban fishermen, who alerted the local militia. The people’s militia of Cuba, the National Revolutionary Militia, sprung into action. 200,000 Cuban civilians, armed and trained by the Revolution, rose to defend their homeland, and Fidel came to the front lines to direct the operations of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Within three days the fighting was over, the invading army had been subdued, and over 1,200 invaders had been captured. The invading forces consisted of CIA agents and officers, CIA-trained mercenaries, soldiers and generals from the defeated army of the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, and the sons of rich Cubans who had left the island when their plantations were expropriated by the Revolution.
The lies of imperialism
US State Department records reveal that they planned the attack “in such a manner to avoid any appearance of US intervention,” a tactic that should be recalled when we learn about contemporary military operations — often through the prism of the US media — whether in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Venezuela.⁴ US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson actually denied US involvement in the attack when it was first reported. It was planned to appear as a case of bitter in-fighting between Cubans. Like the Romans, the US imperialists always try to create a justification for their murderous wars, so that they never appear to be the aggressor — whether it’s framed as a humanitarian intervention, a defense of democracy or, perhaps the most farcical, as a pre-emptive strike.
Instead of killing all the invaders, or keeping them for years in illegal prisons and torturing them, as the US does at Guantánamo Naval Base, Cuba traded the survivors back to the US for $50 million worth of food, tractors, and medical supplies.
“There can be no discipline without conscience,” Fidel Castro commented. “We sentenced them to pay compensation of $100,000 per prisoner, or alternatively a prison sentence. What we wanted was payment of compensation, not because of any need for money but rather as a recognition by the United States government of the Revolution’s victory — it was almost a kind of moral punishment.” The CIA tried to assassinate Castro during the negotiations.⁵
“Cuban workers and peasants decided more than 60 years ago they would no longer be servants for US imperialism or capitalism,” wrote Zach Farber for Liberation News. “They have been collectively punished for it ever since.”⁶
“The US attempt to invade Cuba at Playa Girón took place at a time when the US imperialists had already caused many tragedies through coups, military interventions and other interference in Latin America and the Caribbean,” wrote Canada’s Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. “Thus, the decisive victory of Cuba over the enemy forces at the Bay of Pigs, regarded as the first defeat of US imperialism in Latin America, had significance not only for Cuba but for all the peoples of the Americas.”
“Current and future generations of Cubans will continue on, no matter how great the difficulties may be,” said Fidel Castro during an interview with Ignacio Ramonet. “With ever greater energy, we will face up to our own shortcomings and errors. We will continue to fight. We will continue to resist. We will continue to defeat every imperialist aggression, every lie in their propaganda, every cunning political and diplomatic maneuver.
“We will continue to resist the consequences of the blockade, which will someday be defeated by the dignity of the Cuban people, the solidarity of other nations, and the almost universal opposition of the governments of the world, and also by the growing rejection on the part of the American people of that absurd policy which flagrantly violates their own constitutional rights.
“Just as the imperialists and their pawns suffered the consequences of a Playa Girón multiplied many times over in Angola, the nation that comes to this land to wage war will find itself facing thousands of Quifangondos, Cabindas, Morros de Medundas, Cangambas, Sumbes, Ruacanas, Tchipas, Calueques and Cuito Cuanavales, and defeats such as those dealt to colonialism and apartheid in heroic nations such as Angola, Namibia and South Africa — defeats they’d never imagined would be linked to the history of this small Caribbean nation.”⁸
- Carmelo Ruiz, “Bay of Pigs, the CIA’s Biggest Fiasco, 55 Years Later,” Telesur English, 16 April 2015.
- Chomsky, Noam, “Cuba in the Cross-Hairs: A Near Half-Century of Terror,” from Hegemony or Survival, Holt, 2003.
- United Nations “Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.”
- US Department of State, Office of the Historian, “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,” March 16, 1960.
- Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet, My Life, Scribner, 2009.
- Zach Farber, “60th anniversary of Cuban defeat of U.S. invasion at Playa Girón,” Liberation News, April 14, 2021.
- “60th Anniversary of U.S. Defeat at the Bay of Pigs, April 19, 1961: Cuba’s Historic Victory at Playa Girón,” Communist Party of Canada(Marxist-Leninist), April 8, 2021.
- Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet, My Life, Scribner, 2009.