Veterans of the 2506 Brigade, a group of Cuban exiles and American citizens whom President John F. Kennedy abandoned in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, observed the 60th anniversary of the failed liberation operation this weekend.
The operation began on April 17, 1961, concluding on April 19 with the killing of dozens of Americans and Cuban freedom fighters and the imprisonment and subsequent torture of over 1,000 by the communist regime of late dictator Fidel Castro. The official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, Granma, celebrated the “legendary victory” with extensive paeans honoring the Party on Monday.
Dictator Fidel Castro took over the island of Cuba — after years of avoiding the political conflict ongoing in the cities by fleeing into the remote Sierra Maestra and using the New York Times for self-promotion — in January 1959, after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled. Almost immediately after the mass exodus of persecuted Cubans from the island, exiles in the United States began planning an operation to overthrow the Castro regime, which hesitated to announce its communist nature in its early days. The Bay of Pigs invasion, reaching Playa Girón in south central Cuba, was a plan hatched in coordination with the U.S. government under President Dwight Eisenhower.
According to the survivors of the incident, President Kennedy had agreed to approve air support for the brigade upon landing at Playa Girón, an indispensable part of the plan. With the go-ahead from the White House, the brigade invaded on April 17, 1961, but the promised U.S. air support never arrived. Most were captured; about 100 were killed.
Documents published in 2017 by the National Archives showed the Kennedy administration secretly abandoned the plan it had committed to and floated the possibility of offering Cuban exiles two-cent “rewards” for independently killing Castro.
Speaking to the Spanish news service EFE, some veterans recalled the sense of abandonment at the realization Kennedy had lied about ordering air support for their mission.
“The war was lost before we entered Cuba,” Cuban Lieutenant Hugo Sueiro, who landed on Playa Larga at Bay of Pigs, told EFE.
Another veteran, pilot Salvador Miralles, told EFE, “I feel very sad for all the friends who died for nothing, after putting in maximum effort, because of the American government that did not do what it should have done.”
EFE noted that, on the event’s 60th anniversary, “all the Cuban exiles who led the operation agree that the failure was the product of a lack of commitment and indecision on Kennedy’s part, the changing of plans and lack of air support for the landing.” That perspective has not changed in decades. In 2001, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion, several veterans shared the same sentiment to the Argentine newspaper La Nación.
“The invasion failed because of a political decision and not because of military error. Kennedy changed plans at the last minute,” Carl Sudano, a military engineer who trained the fighters, told the newspaper, stating that he flew in and offered the minimal support that did arrive in the skies after “Washington told us not to fly, but eight of us Americans did it, anyway.”
According to Johnny Lopez de la Cruz, a retired U.S. Army colonel and the president of the veterans of the Brigade 2506 organization, the arrival of the fighters at Bay of Pigs preceded “three days of uninterrupted combat against a superior force where the members of the invading force, supported by our brother pilots in the Liberation Air Force and members of the Marine group, exhibited courage and patriotism, willing to offer their lives for their country.”
Lopez noted in remarks published in the Diario Las Américas this week that the invasion failed “primarily due to a lack of logistical and munitions support.”
Lopez de la Cruz and the remaining group of Brigade 2506 veterans observed the 60th anniversary of the event in Miami on Saturday, accompanied by senior members of the government of Florida, including Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
“Members of the brigade took a stand. A stand against oppression. A stand against destitution. A stand against a morally bankrupt ideology, and a stand for freedom,” DeSantis said on Saturday in remarks to the hundreds assembled to honor the freedom fighters. “We have people who are willing to try 90 miles of shark-infested waters to be able to get here because they seek freedom. That’s the spirit of the brigade. We have fights in our country right now for freedom, when we are fighting against political censorship, that is the spirit of the brigade.”
DeSantis compared Brigade 2506 to the protesters killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Germans who took down the Berlin Wall.
The commitment of these veterans to restore truth and justice in Cuba and the fight against socialism is not lost upon us in Florida. We are grateful for their unwavering support of freedom.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 17, 2021
DeSantis has prioritized Brigade 2506 veterans — who are all senior citizens and thus at higher risk of complications — to receive vaccines against Chinese coronavirus and take part in a state program meant to help homebound seniors access vaccines.
Also present was Florida Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-FL).
¡Todo honor unirme a nuestros héroes de la Brigada 2506 en el 60 aniversario de la invasión Bahía de Cochinos!
Honored to have joined our Brigade 2506 heroes at the 60th Anniversary of the Bay of Pigs. 🙏🏼🇺🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/PddfVCPgkj
— María Elvira Salazar 🇺🇸 (@MaElviraSalazar) April 17, 2021
“We all know that it was a failed end because American forces did not come to support them from the air,” Salazar recalled. “We know the guilty party and the top person responsible is John F. Kennedy.” She went on to call the veterans the “moral compass” of the exile community.
The perspective in Granma, the communist newspaper, naturally differed from the prevalent views in Miami.
“There is only one commitment: to defend the Revolution and proceed, in an accelerated fashion, to construct socialism, which still demands so much,” Granma declared Monday.
“April 19 dawns in Cuba, always, with the clamor of bells celebrating the memorable triumph of a heroic nation,” the newspaper detailed. “On that day, David defeated Goliath on the sands of Playa Girón and, 60 years later, the same indomitable people who bled in the swamps for its Revolution marks today, in honor of the date, another legendary victory.”