View Full Version : Guatemala and the Bay of Pigs

27 Feb 09,, 05:27
The Guatemalan apology
Basil Ince

Tuesday, February 24th 2009

The President of Guatemala, Alvaro Colom, who just visited Cuba, apologised to that country for having the CIA exiles train on Guatemalan soil prior to launching the abortive Bay of Pigs attack in 1961. His precise words were: "Today I want to ask Cuba's forgiveness for having offered our country, our territory, to prepare an invasion of Cuba It wasn't us, but it was our territory." He apologised in his capacity as president and head of state, and as commander-in-chief of the Guatemalan army.

The apologies seek to mend broken relationships and/or to heal societies. Conversely, the absence of an apology impedes the healing and reconciliation process. At times, an apology serves a political purpose, and this seems to be the case of the Guatemalan apology which was greeted with sustained applause at the University of Havana.

The execution of high ranking officials for war crimes, their incarceration, and exile were methods employed to cleanse the Cuban forces of Batista loyalists. The US administration did not have to wait until Che Guevara declared that "Our revolution is endangering all American possessions in Latin America." A jumpy Eisenhower administration moved quickly in March 1960 to plan a covert operation that comprised 25 men. It was not long before that this small number grew into the "largest paramilitary operation the CIA ever conceived".

The operation was not as covert as originally planned. American newspapers and magazines were openly reporting the massive build-up in Miami and the CIA's role in it. Consequently, long before the operation, Castro was publicly denouncing plans to overthrow him. Infantry training was conducted in Guatemala where an airfield was also constructed. An illicit radio station operated from the Swan Islands near the coast of Honduras and the planning headquarters of the operation was located on the South campus of the University of Miami.

John F Kennedy inherited the Bay of Pigs undertaking, the biggest clandestine operation at that time. But while the Americans were preparing for the adventure, Castro jailed 100,000 Cubans whom he suspected might side with America against him. The CIA had planned to invade near the town of Trinidad but, because it was heavily populated, JFK changed to the Bay of Pigs.

The Bay of Pigs, however, had an inferior beachhead to Trinidad's. Moreover, the new location made it tougher for the invaders because 80 miles of swamp separated it from the Escambray mountains where they were to join anti-Castro guerrillas. And JFK made another faux pas. The plan submitted required that 15 B-26 bombers should be used to cover the ground invaders. JFK not only reduced the number to eight planes, but also changed the three recommended airstrikes to two. The additional airstrike would have decimated the Cuban air force. These tactical errors along with JFK's vacillation spelt doom for the invaders.

The invasion lasted less than 72 hours. One hundred of the CIA-sponsored fighters were killed and over 1,000 were captured. JFK blamed the CIA for the disaster, and told its head, Allen Dulles, known as a brilliant spymaster, that in a parliamentary system that he (JFK), head of government, would have been forced to resign. However, in its absence, Kennedy fired Dulles.

During his speech in Cuba, Colom, ideologically left of centre, told his audience that "times are changing" and that means "Latin America is changing." There is certainly a shift leftwards in Latin America since the Cold War days. In the past, left-leaning Latin American governments connoted anti-Americanism. According to the head of Mexico's trade union movement: "A wind is blowing to the left across Latin America".

The current left-leaning presidents in Latin America are: Argentina's Nestor Kirchner, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Brazil's Lula da Silva, Chile's Michelle Bachelet, Cuba's Raul Castro, Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Peru's Alan Garcia, Uraguay's Tabare Vasquez, and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Certainly the ideological spectrum may range from ultra left to left of centre.

Those who have grabbed the most ink so far are Chavez and Castro. The Summit of the Americas that will be held in Port of Spain in April will be most interesting. It would be interesting at any time but will attract extra interest to see how the new US President Barack Obama operates in this new environment.