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Bay of Pigs' symphonic tale

Going to War against Cuba

by Steve Eckardt

Here's a grand tale worth a fire, a bottle of cognac and maybe fireworks off the porch when it's done.

It's a foul tale of war, murder, betrayal, deceit, and vast conspiracy --conspiracy involving the very elite of America, the highest levels of the government, leading universities, and institutions like the New York Times.

And it's an inspiring tale of heroism, sacrifice, eloquence and implacability –from common people like you and me, no less ... the vast humanity ever faceless in learned texts, and never thought worth entering into the calculations of the powerful.

But that's not the best part. For this story is just a chapter in a far grander tale that sweeps across time and continents. More: a tale that is still unfolding –and one you can help write.

It could start with the European discovery of the Americas and the bomb that set off in worlds both old and new. Or with the horrific genocide and plunder by the Spanish Crown (Cuba its seat, by the way) that killed most of a continent and left the survivors enslaved. Or with the later heroic uprising led by Simon Bolivar which won Latin American independence (if not unification). Or with perhaps the deepest revolution of them all –the 1896 revolution led by Cuba's Jose Martí– which overthrew the final remaining Spanish dominion, only to be crushed by a new, rising imperial power of the U.S.A. under the pretext of the "Spanish-American War."

Slavery, genocide, gold, pestilence, glory, and defeat ... all part of the tale, and all good starting points.

But best to start with pre-revolutionary 1950s Cuba, say ten years before the heart of the story, the conspiracy that ended in defeat at the Bay of Pigs.

Open veins

Cuba, 1950s: there lay a land of torture, mass murder, and utter destitution. And racism so profound that the country's top social club –white-only of course– turned out the lights when the mixed-race dictator himself came to call. Havana, a sewer of decadence –rich white tourists filled the gaudy casinos and satisfied their sexual fantasies with the natives and their children in a city openly ruled by the Mafia.

But it was the big Mafia –the U.S. ruling class–  that reigned over the island, feeding on its open veins,  draining Cuba's natural bounty and squeezing every cent with usurious loans –all backed by the points of U.S. bayonets.

Sugar and tobacco workers toiled on plantations under conditions little changed from slave days –except now there was now no food or housing during the eight idle months of the year. Unemployment regularly exceeded 80%. Electricity and plumbing were unknown to the vast majority, and education, literacy, and health were nearly as rare.


Add to this degradation and destitution the dictatorship of erstwhile Sgt. Fulgencio Batista, imposed to by the United States in 1952 to crush popular unrest –in the name of "fighting communism," of course. Assassinations, murders and troops on the streets, mass arrests of workers and peasants, tortures in the barracks and police stations rolled across the land.

Batista's  particular favorite –gouging out the eyes of his opponents.

And Cuba was filled with opponents. For one thing, U.S. military occupation and later interventions had never broken the memory of the hard-won independence that was snatched away at its triumph, a defeat still stuck like a bone in the throat of Cuba's immense majority.

They had never acquiesced, filling the following decades with demonstrations, strikes, general strikes and uprisings.

And so the land that in the 1950's lay ravaged by murderous repression, decimating poverty, and cruel foreign rule was a land crying out in anger.


The people have had enough. Out of the blood and ferment strides several score fearless men and women, calling the people to arms. They begin with only 12 rifles –against 80,000 armed men backed by the world's wealthiest and .

But their ideas are just. They pledge to turn all the military barracks over to Cuba's children. And they pledge to return all their nation's stolen land back to the peasants who work it.

But most of all, they call on Cubans to free themselves: "To the people whose desperate roads through life have been paved with the bricks of betrayals and false promises, we were not going to say 'We will eventually give you what you need,' but rather--'Here you have it, fight for it with all your might so that liberty and happiness may be yours!'" (from "History Will Absolve Me, "Fidel Castro's famous 1953 testimony while on trial for trying to spark the overthrow of Batista; subsequently passed hand-to-hand by nearly everyone in Cuba.)

And only two short years after the 1956 outbreak of open warfare –though at the cost of 20,000 rebel lives– the dictator is driven out by a sea of angry humanity, fleeing to Florida with the national Treasury on January 1st, 1959.

The people organize themselves into militias, and block clubs and unions; women's groups, students groups, and organizations of small farmers. They take back the land, slash all the rents, teach themselves to read led by teenagers, put the utilities under their own control ... and then the mills, mines and factories. They build medical schools and train themselves as doctors, and make medical care a human right.

And they turn the military barracks into playgrounds and schools for their children.


But in the Northern Empire, these heroic accomplishments meet nothing but bitter fury –and profound contempt. The rabble can never run the country –imagine!– Negroes and peasants and women ... the cows and chickens taking over the farm.

Yet neither time nor the first countermoves –lies, bribery, division, and economic strangulation– end the West'simperial nightmare. Now war is launched on every front.

But call it Conspiracy too, for neither the world nor its own citizens are told. Millions and millions of dollars –the Yankees' inexhaustible resource– are devoted to counter-revolution, no expenses spared. The U.S. gathers the best and the brightest from every corner of government and university to plan the operation to return Cuba to the-way-things-should-be.

More than 50% of the CIA's budget is devoted to unseating Cuba's uppity natives. Every U.S. embassy in every country is assigned at least one person whose full-time job was severing any contacts there with Cuba and helping overturn the revolution.

Thousands and thousands of mercenaries are recruited and trained in secret Everglades camps for invasion. U.S. warplanes are repainted with markings of the Cuban airforce. Cuban airstrips are bombed, while other planes set fire to cane fields across the island. A mercenary force is established in the Escambray Mountains.

And when the moment for invasion comes, further moves:  the New York Times pulls its front-page scoop on impending military action after a call from the White House;  the puppets tapped to lead a new Cuban government are locked in a room in Florida; tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers mass on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, on Haiti and in Central America;  an invasion is feinted at the easternmost province of Santiago;  and –this released just days ago– CIA operatives take over Associated Press and other wire services to dictate what the world will read.

"What is most astounding," testifies the commander of the main column which attacked the mercenaries landing at the Bay of Pigs (in a 1999 lawsuit), "is the magnitude of the CIA plan, with not a single detail overlooked, whether military, economic, or political."

The Northern Colossus believes its own propaganda (and the tall tales of its fattening mercenaries) that Cuba is waiting for liberation from the "communist yoke," that a single spark will start a prairie fire.

Human steel

But the people of Cuba are ready and waiting. A call to arms immediately follows the 15 April bombing of the airfields. Cubans in their millions report to stations –factories, cane fields, neighborhoods, and strategic locations– weapons in hand, while others devote themselves to maintaining production. Che Guevara is assigned to head defense in the west, Rebel Armed Forces leader Raúl Castro in the east, and the Black key revolutionary leader Juan Almieda in Santa Clara to head the Central Army.

As the mercenaries land, Fidel Castro flags down the commander of the small tank battalion for a ride to the front and is told he's too important to get killed, and is left by the side of the road. He roars by in another vehicle ten minutes later, rifle in hand, straight to where the bullets are flying.

And the single spark does light a prairie fire –but it's the blazing Cuban people, ready to die rather than go back to degradation, murder, and eyeballs popped on the floor.


Washington's plan is to establish a beach-head, have a provisional "anti-Communist" government proclaim itself and appeal to "democratic" forces for assistance –while all the world's news is entirely crafted and spoon-fed by the CIA. A full-scale military invasion by U.S. forces will follow, the figureheads finally released from their Florida lockup.

But the mercenaries meet steel instead of open arms. A beach-head is never established, two key U.S. warships are sunk, while the barely dozen planes of the Cuba's own air force cripple U.S. air support.

And so Washington throws up its hands, leaving its hired help alone on the beaches. It tell world the U.S. had nothing to do with it.


And so ends the tale of the first military defeat of the Northern Colossus in the Americas. But the story goes on. "This is not the last attempt," says Fidel, warning that a far bigger attack is coming. And indeed –forcibly convinced of the folly of using mercenaries instead of its own military– Washington initiates plans for full-scale war against Cuba. Ultimately the U.S. goes so far as taking the world to the brink of atomic war over Cuba's right to live and defend itself.

It loses that one too –but it hasn't given up to this day.

Yet after four decades of diplomatic, bacteriological, economic, and ideological warfare and blockade (not to mention over 600 documented attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro), the Cuban people still rule their own land. They have more doctors and teachers per capita than any country in the world –and the old military barracks still belong to the children.

And where once the world could only read news dispatches written by the CIA, today it votes in the United Nations 167 to 3 to condemn Washington's eternal effort to crush Cuba.

But the war goes on. The 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which outlaws all world trade with Cuba (signed by Democratic president Clinton) spells out the conditions for it to end: government and "property relations must be returned to their pre-January 1, 1959 conditions."


What is the moral? The Second Declaration of Havana, signed by more than one million Cubans and issued 4 February 1962 puts it like this: "What does the Cuban revolution teach? That revolution is possible."

These are words more attractive today than ever, in a world of savage inequality that leaves some 3,000 people dead every hour in the Third World for lack of clean drinking water, ten-cent vaccinations, and a quarter's worth of food. A world where the possibility of mere recession in the Northern Colossus threatens economic devastation for the billions that it dominates.

Yet Ecuadorian peasants topple their IMF-handmaiden government, Argentines rock their country with general strikes against the imposition of austerity, the East stirs as police-state "Communists" fall, Palestinians disdain gunfire and bombing in the fight for justice, the entire population of Cuba rises to demand the return of a child, and thousands of young people in the U.S. itself protest imperial "globalization."

"A chain of hands stretches out ... across the centuries. Over the Andean peaks and slopes, along great rivers and in the shadowy forests, this chain of hands stretches to unite their miseries with those of others who are slowly perishing...." said the Cubans in their Second Declaration of Havana.

To those today without even a crust of bread, without a chance for a future, these words and this on-going tale offers both the hope and guarantee of the words of Che Guevara:  "Let's be realistic," he said, "and do the impossible."

©Copyright 2001 --non-profit reprint rights granted if url is included.

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