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Friday, April 16, 2021

April 16, 2021: Latin American Invasions: The Bay of Pigs

[April 17th marks the 50th anniversary of the botched Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy U.S. invasions and interventions of Latin American nations, leading up to a weekend Guest Post on the Dominican Republic from a colleague, friend, and DR scholar!]

On three lesser-known figures who reveal the contours and aftermaths of the failed invasion.

1)      Richard M. Bissell Jr.: If, as I made the case for in yesterday’s post, clandestine relationships with foreign regimes defined much of 20th century American foreign policy, than figures like Bissell—an economist turned the CIA’s chief of clandestine operations in the 1950s and early 1960s—deserve a far more prominent place in our collective memories than they currently occupy. When President Eisenhower decided (not long after Fidel Castro’s successful 1958 revolution) that an invasion of Cuba was necessary to counter the perceived threats posed by the nation’s new Communist government, he put Bissell in charge of planning that operation, and it was Bissell who recruited, organized, and trained the numerous U.S. and Cuban figures at the operation’s heart.

2)      Sergio Arcacha Smith: One of those Cuban figures was Smith, a Cuban American exile who moved to New Orleans and helped form two of the most prominent anti-Castro organizations, the Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC) and the Friends of Democratic Cuba (FDC). The organizational and fund-raising efforts of such communities, as well as their intense desire to return to Cuba and overthrow Castro’s regime, were instrumental in the recruitment of participants in and the planning of the invasion. And when the invasion went bad and President John F. Kennedy cut off air support for the forces on the ground, figures like Smith became bitter enemies to Kennedy, leading to the lingering questions of whether Smith and his New Orleans community played any role in Kennedy’s 1963 assassination.

3)      José Basulto: Many of those who participated in the invasion were captured, imprisoned and interrogated, and in some cases executed by the Castro regime. But some managed to escape and return to the United States, and one of those surviving Bay of Pigs veterans is Basulto, a CIA-trained spy and saboteur who had previously infiltrated Cuba and played a role in the aborted invasion. He has continued to work in opposition to the Castro regime for the decades since, most notably by forming the aviation group Brothers to the Rescue, which is either a humanitarian aid organization or a terrorist group, depending on whom you ask. All a reflection of how the Bay of Pigs invasion was far from an isolated incident, and illustrates a half-century of complex, evolving Cuban American histories and relationships.

Special Guest Post this weekend,


PS. What do you think? Other US-Latin America histories you’d highlight?

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