Back to Index

CUBA: Intelligence and the Bay of Pigs

I forwarded to Tim Brown a report from Alberto Gutiérrez, and Tim has sent me his own analysis of the prelude to the Bay of Pigs: "The original plan for what later came to be known as the Bay of Pigs operation is addressed in declassified CIA and other USG documents contained in the book Operation Zapata, (University Publications of America, 1981). On page 4, the seminal document in that selection confirms that, prior to the Bay of Pigs, and possibly since 1959, the CIA was working with an armed resistance movement in the mountains of western Cuba known as the Escambray Rebellion. The original landing site was to be in that region just south of the Escambray and for the force to link up with these rebels.

During the post-Bay of Pigs post-mortem, observers wrongly assumed that near the landing site meant near the Bay of Pigs, or Playa Giron as it is called in Cuba. But this is not correct. In Memorias de un soldado Cubano, Dariel Ramirez Alarcon, alias "Benigno" (Barcelona: Tusquet, 1997), who was with Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra and later a top guerrilla aide to Che Guevara in Africa and then in Bolivia, describes how he infiltrated the 1959-65 Escambray peasant rebellion in western Cuba early on on behalf of Cuba intelligence and came to work with, and betray, CIA operatives then on the ground in the Escambray preparing to receive the landing force. Elizabeth Burgos, the highly respected spouse of French revolutionary Regis Debray and author of I, Rigoberto, the book than won Rigoberto Menchu her Nobel Peace Prize, is editor-translator of Benigno's book, and I have discussed it with her in depth, especially the points Benigno makes concerning the CIA and the Escambray. Her explanations and a number of other sources and publications support Benigno's version.

At the time of the landing, the Escambray rebellion had between 3,000 and 5,000 anti-Castro guerrillas under arms at the time with the active support of 150,000 to 300,000 peasants and was being supported by CIA air drops. When Kennedy decided to go forward with the landing but to change the landing site from western to central Cuba, the fates of both the Bay of Pigs force and the Escambray rebels were sealed. From a beach within a few miles of the center of the Escambray movement from which it could have quicly kinked up with the Escambray rebels, Kennedy moved it several hundred kilometers to the east to a site to an untenable site where there was no civilian support, no prepared area of operations, and no possibility of success. Why he did so has never been explained. The lack of air support, withdrawal of supply ships and naval support made the defeat quicker. But it was the changing of landing place, not these factors, that doomed the operation to failure. The were just dirt thrown on its grave. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the US abandoned the Escambray rebellion, and Castro then slowly wiped it out. By 1965 it had been erased. Several tens of thousands of peasant farmers who were active supporters or sympathizers of the Escambray rebels still live in pueblos cautivos in Western Cuba to which they were forcibly removed, under very tight security and movement controls.

I discuss this briefly in my The Real Contra War, (Norman: U of Oklahoma, 2001), pp 189-191 in chapter 17, entitled "Resistance and Survival". In it I compare the Escambray and Cintra peasant uprisings, which are amazingly similar in origins and address the question of why the Contras succeed but the Escambray rebels failed.

My comment: Obviously Kennedy changed the landing place on advice from the CIA. Possibly the Escambray was a diversionary operation. In any case, we do not know how it would have turned out.

Ronald Hilton - 9/26/02