April 20, 1961 – Crisis In Cuba – Various reports – NBC Radio – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
April 20, 1961 – It was all about Cuba today and news of an invasion by anti-Castro rebels and a day of conflicting reports. The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a failed landing operation on the southwestern coast of Cuba in 1961 by Cuban exiles who opposed Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, covertly financed and directed by the U.S. government. The operation took place at the height of the Cold War, and its failure led to major shifts in international relations among Cuba, the United States, and the Soviet Union.
Soon after the success of the Cuban Revolution in December 1958, militant counter-revolutionary groups developed in an attempt to overthrow the new regime. Undertaking armed attacks against government forces, some set up guerrilla bases in Cuba’s mountainous regions, leading to the six-year Escambray Rebellion. These dissidents were funded and armed by various foreign sources, including the exiled Cuban community, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and Rafael Trujillo’s regime in the Dominican Republic. No quarter was given during the suppression of the resistance in the Escambray Mountains, where former rebels from the war against Batista took different sides. On 3 April 1961, a bomb attack on militia barracks in Bayamo killed four militia and wounded eight more. On 6 April, the Hershey Sugar factory in Matanzas was destroyed by sabotage. On 14 April 1961, guerrillas led by Agapito Rivera fought Cuban government forces in Villa Clara Province, where several government troops were killed and others wounded. Also on 14 April 1961, a Cubana airliner was hijacked and flown to Jacksonville, Florida; resultant confusion then helped the staged ‘defection’ of a B-26 and pilot at Miami on 15 April.
President Eisenhower had meetings with President-elect Kennedy at the White House on 6 December 1960 and 19 January 1961. In one conversation, Eisenhower stated that since March 1960, the U.S. government had trained “in small units—but we had done nothing else—[…] some hundreds of refugees” in Guatemala, “a few in Panama, and some in Florida.” However, Eisenhower also expressed disapproval of the idea of Batista returning to power and was waiting for the exiles to agree on a leader who was opposed to both Castro and Batista.
The failed invasion severely embarrassed the Kennedy administration and made Castro wary of future U.S. intervention in Cuba. On 21 April, in a State Department press conference, Kennedy said: “There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan… Further statements, detailed discussions, are not to conceal responsibility because I’m the responsible officer of the Government…”
The initial U.S. response concerning the first air attacks was of a dismissive quality. Adlai Stevenson denied any involvement in the first wave of airstrikes, stating before the United Nations, “These charges are totally false and I deny them categorically.” Stevenson continued to promote a story of two Cuban planes that had reportedly defected to the United States, apparently unaware that they were in fact U.S. planes piloted by U.S.-backed Cuban pilots to promote a false story of defection.
After the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy believed that another failure on the part of the United States to gain control and stop communist expansion would fatally damage U.S. credibility with its allies and his own reputation. Kennedy was thus determined to “draw a line in the sand” and prevent a communist victory in the Vietnam War. He told James Reston of The New York Times immediately after his Vienna meeting with Khrushchev, “Now we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place.”
Here is a special report from NBC Radio as the situation was unfolding and as reports were coming in, conflicting and sketchy.
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