FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Bay of Pigs and Chronic Hubris

by MANUEL R. GÓMEZ

April 17-19 marks the 52nd anniversary of the US-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles, our proxies to try to overthrow the Cuban Revolution.  My guess is that few Americans today remember what the invasion was, much less surmise why I can argue that the hubris underlying that debacle still guides our policies to this day.

My Bay of Pigs actually began on April 15th, 1961, when I was 13 years old in Havana and awoke near dawn to the sound of explosions from Cuba’s largest air base.  As I would later learn, B-26 bombers from a clandestine CIA base in Guatemala, painted falsely with Cuban Air Force insignia, had almost destroyed all of Cuba’s warplanes on the ground.  The landing came two days later, and it was unprecedented in scope for its time: frogmen, supply ships, landing craft, tanks, planes, artillery and some 1200 Cuban exiles with the latest weapons.  And US warships could be seen in the distance. This was no banana republic uprising.  My family was buoyed for a few days by CIA-orchestrated radio transmissions reporting “victories” by the “liberators,” uprisings around the island, even the installation of the “government in exile” on the ground.  It was all lies.  The delusion that “the Americans would soon clean this up” quite literally went up in smoke when Cuba’s young militia defeated the invaders in three days.  Both sides fought courageously, but it was no contest:  Cuba was solidly behind the Revolution, not the invaders.  Instead of uprisings, there were huge mass demonstrations in support of the government.  Many years later, the memoirs of the CIA director of the operation even told us that the “government in exile” was actually locked up in a Florida airbase throughout, without access to the media or to the invasion force, “their” press releases written by CIA handlers. Talk about hubris.

Those few days of the Bay of Pigs shaped the rest of my life.  First, the defeat irrevocably confirmed my parents’ decision to emigrate to the US, which we did in August.  Most importantly, the defeat triggered my life-long passion to understand why the invasion had failed so miserably, and what made our policies towards the island so wrong and ineffective.

For me, the inescapable conclusion is that the main reason was and remains US hubris.  Sure, investments were lost following nationalization, the Cold War had a sizable impact, Cuba intervened in Angola to stop the apartheid South African army (that was when Mandela was still rotting in jail and we had not yet decided to canonize him a hero), the Cuban-American right largely took political control of our policy, and there were many other factors over the years.  But these have today largely disappeared, and we have overcome similar and far bigger obstacles with China and Vietnam.  Yet the essence of our Cuba policy has remained the same, because the one constant has been our hubris.  At the Bay of Pigs, the attitude that “we own this island” ran headlong against a deeply nationalistic process that matched its commitment for sovereignty to a dedicated effort for social justice. And we have been banging our head against the same wall ever since.  Eleven presidents have been blinded by a hubris that hasn’t allowed them to deal with the kind of revolution that occurred in Cuba.  While hardly a paradise—please find me one anywhere in Latin America–the revolution was and remains a process, profoundly in search of true sovereignty and a more just social system.  Our hubris that has blinded us to that reality.

And a hubris that hardly started in 1959, which is no trivial observation, although I can barely even sketch it here.  We can go way back to Jefferson, Adams, and many other key US political figures who over the years ardently favored the annexation of Cuba.  Fast  forward to the early 1900’s when the US occupying force in Cuba imposed the Platt Amendment into the Cuban constitution, giving the US the right to intervene in Cuba at will.  That is also how we got Guantanamo Bay.  Just imagine Lafayette demanding a similar clause for the French government in the US constitution, and the French owning  San Francisco Bay.  The amendment led to several armed US interventions, and it was not eliminated until 1934, by which time US control of affairs in Cuba no longer demanded such a transparently colonial arrangement.

Then fast-forward again to 1952-58, when we backed and armed Batista, who led one of the most vicious military dictatorships in the history of the continent until that time, not to menition Machado, in the 30’s, a dictator who was popularly known as the “donkey with claws” for his cruelty; we supported him for about a decade.  Then forward again to 1962, when we told revolutionary Cuba that they could not buy and refine Soviet oil, as if they were children who had to “behave” according to our rules.  Yes, “behave,” a paternalistic word that appears routinely in our policy pronouncements and even our laws towards the island, and which is quite revealing of our hubris.  Countries have policies and take actions; children behave.  In any case, the reaction was that Cuba nationalized the US-owned refineries on the island, and went Cuba directly into the Soviet orbit, so that our hubris had only made matters worse.

More relevant still, fast forward to 1996, when Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, actually prohibiting negotiations with any Cuban government led by Fidel or Raul Castro, along with much other tightening of the embargo. All so that Cuba would learn to “behave.”  It is hard to imagine a more far-fetched law, and one so full of hubris.  ?Wait, doesn’t the President have the authority to conduct foreign policy?  And don’t the Cubans have the right to decide who their leaders should be, through whatever mechanisms they choose?  Are they children or a sovereign nation?

This hubris of decades is now getting in the way more than ever.  Practically every historical reason for our hostile policies, whatever their past merits, has disappeared, yet we are still stuck in “regime change” tactics, albeit not through invasions. Dramatic changes are taking placing on and in relation to the island, yet we are missing every chance to respond to them intelligently.  A private sector is growing by leaps and bounds, which is precisely what we have claimed to want for decades.  Cuba is recognized by virtually every country in the world, and Raul Castro now co-leads the newly-formed Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, with the conservative Chilean President.  Tens of millions of Cuban import dollars go in trade to countries other than the US. Close to 3 million tourists, many from our closest allies, visit every year, and Cuba is even helping the conservative Colombian government try to negotiate a peace agreement in its half-century old armed conflict, yet we ludicrously continue to call the island a “terrorist nation.”  The US is isolated, not Cuba.  And in a twist of supreme irony, a Cuban citizen is today freer to visit the US as a tourist (assuming we give them a visa), than is a US citizen to visit Cuba, because the embargo rules won’t let us go there and be tourists.  We can tourist in China, Vietnam and even North Korea more easily than in Cuba.

I don’t know what the cure for such a case of chronic hubris is, but we need to find it, and soon.

Manuel R. Gómez is a public health professional from Washington, DC, also a member of the Board of the Center for Democracy in the Americas and a member of Cuban-Americans for Engagement (CAFE).  

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail