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   Vol.65/No.10            March 12, 2001 
'We began with a revolutionary people'
Fidel Castro's 1961 speech after defeat of U.S.-backed invasion at Bay of Pigs
(feature article - Bay of Pigs 40-year Commemoration: Washington's First Military Defeat in the Americas)
Printed below are excerpts from the soon-to-be-released Pathfinder book Bay of Pigs: Washington's First Military Defeat in the Americas. The piece excerpted is from the chapter titled "Imperialism relied on cannons and tanks, we began with a revolutionary people," a speech presented by Fidel Castro on April 23, 1961. In the speech Castro reported to the Cuban people on the victory won against the invasion by some 1,500 Cuban mercenaries of the country's southern coast at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961. The counterrevolutionaries--trained, financed, and deployed by Washington--were defeated within 72 hours by Cuba's militia and Revolutionary Armed Forces. Copyright © 2001 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission. Subheadings are by the Militant.
On Monday morning [April 17] at 3:15 a.m.--that night I had laid down, because we had held the demonstration--I and the other comrades were told that fighting was occurring at Playa Girón and Playa Larga, that the enemy was landing, and that platoons on watch in that area were putting up resistance.

We ordered that the information be verified; in this type of thing you must always be certain. Otherwise you start having ships at this place and that place. Then we received news reporting with absolute certainty of the first wounded men, reports that an invading force was giving heavy fire with bazookas, recoilless cannons, 50 caliber machine guns, and seaborne artillery, that Playa Girón and Playa Larga in the Zapata Swamp were coming under heavy attack.

There was no longer the slightest doubt that a landing was taking place there, and that it was strongly supported with heavy weapons.

Our people there immediately began to put up a heroic resistance. The short-wave stations at Playa Girón and Playa Larga established communication, and they gave information on the attack, until the very moment when, as a result of the attack itself, the radio stopped functioning. Between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. news about Playa Girón and Playa Larga stopped coming in over the short-wave stations established there, since communications had already been silenced.

By then we were facing this situation.

Look, [points to a map] this is the Bay of Pigs, this is Cienfuegos Bay. We had considered this zone as one of the possible sites for a landing.

At that time, there was a battalion from Cienfuegos posted at the Australia Sugar Mill. There were various platoons of armed charcoal makers, throughout the zone of Cayo Ramona, Soplillar, and Buena Ventura, small groups that immediately joined forces with those guarding these positions. They were the first to confront the aggressors.

This other map is bigger [goes to another map], Playa Larga is here, Playa Girón over there.

I am going to go back here to explain something. [Goes back to the first map.] The Zapata Peninsula has the following characteristics: It is a region of solid ground right next to the shore: there is solid ground for several kilometers away from the coastline. It is rocky and wooded up till here. But north of this solid ground is an absolutely impassable swamp.

This is an absolutely impassable swamp. Previously there were no means of communication whatsoever; there was a narrow gauge railroad from the Australia Sugar Mill to the Bay of Pigs, and from Covadonga to Girón. So it was a completely impassable place; the residents of this zone had only a single narrow gauge railroad for communication.  
'Where revolution worked hardest'
The Zapata Swamp is one of the places where the revolution has worked hardest. It has built three main roads that cross the swamp; these are the points of access for anyone going there. The charcoal workers of the swamp--thousands of people live here, and they used to live under the worst conditions imaginable. They were paid 80 or 90 cents for a bag of charcoal, and had to pay rent for a bit of land, and then the middleman who took the charcoal out through here, through this narrow gauge railroad, sold it at a price two or three times higher.

That is, it was the poorest and most forgotten population in the country. And the Zapata Swamp is one of the places where the revolution has done the most. It has built tourist centers at Laguna del Tesoro, Playa Larga, and Playa Girón; communication routes have been built; not only this highway, but more than two hundred kilometers of highways and roads have been built in the Zapata Swamp, through which the residents take out their charcoal and wood. The income of the population in this area has increased dramatically; there are people who earn 8, 10, 12 pesos a day or more, extracting wood. These are people who once lived in terrible conditions.

When the invasion took place there were two hundred teachers in the Zapata Swamp region participating in the literacy campaign. That gives an idea about the place these people chose.

This is very important, because it shows what the imperialist mentality is--the reverse of the revolutionary mentality. Imperialism examines geography; it analyzes the number of cannons, planes, tanks, it assesses positions. The revolutionary, on the other hand, examines the social composition of the population, what the population consists of. The imperialists don' t give a damn what the population there thinks or feels, they could care less. The revolutionary thinks first of the population, and the population of the Zapata Swamp was entirely with us.

Why? Because it was a population that had been rescued from the worst misery, from the worst isolation. A child around here--in this area there are places called Santo Tomás, Vínculo, and Medioderos, which are little villages in the area, where before the main road was there--it has already reached Santo Tomás and will soon reach Vínculo--they had to use a road through Canaliso to take out what they produced, as well as everything else. And it took them three days to reach Batabanó. Children used to die there without a chance to reach the doctor, because from certain areas of the Zapata Swamp it took three days for anyone to reach civilization.

I remember a conversation I had with some residents of that area, around the zone of Santo Tomás. They told me: "Look, man can withstand more than a dog, because here there were dogs that died of starvation, while we didn't." [Applause] "There were dogs that starved to death while we didn't. Man can withstand more than a dog." That is the phrase of a resident of the Santo Tomás area.  
Literacy campaign
The literacy campaign that was being carried out in those places was a fantastic thing. It was one of the pilot areas of the literacy campaign. All these towns--Jagüey Grande, Covadonga, Australia, all these towns around here--had no access to the sea, they were exclusively swampland. Now all these people have beaches; thousands of people visit Playa Girón and Playa Larga on Sundays, even though construction is not yet finished. There was a plan to officially open Playa Girón on May 20; and they were also working intensively on Laguna del Tesoro and Playa Larga.

There are three hundred children of residents from the Zapata Swamp studying in Havana. They are studying ceramics, leather tanning, mechanics, carpentry; because a number of leather tanning, mechanical, ceramics, and carpentry shops are going to be established there. And we have three hundred boys and girls studying in Havana. Incidentally, the mother of two girls that were studying here was killed in the air attack by the mercenaries.

There is a story about one of their little sisters, who had an obsession with a pair of white shoes. Right in the middle of the bombing, the little girl wanted to go and get her white shoes that were in the house. Finally she got the shoes, but they were all shot up, almost destroyed. And she lost her mother during the mercenaries' attack there.

But the fact was that there were two hundred teachers in the Zapata Swamp, and three hundred local children studying in Havana, in the wealthy Cubanacán area. And the standard of living of the population of the Zapata Swamp was very high: roads, doctors, jobs. It had become one of the most frequented places, one of the most visited.  
Gains for poorest working families
Those were the conditions of the population in the place where the mercenaries landed. They disembarked at Playa Girón, where there is a town that has 180 new homes, and will have the capacity to house more than a thousand people. Because these are tourist centers, which will be organized so that the workers can go there, the poorest working families.

Playa Girón and the Zapata Swamp are places that we have filled with main roads. It is a town completely built by the revolution, with an airfield and everything else. This is where the mercenaries intended to establish their territory. There, of all places, is where imperialism was going to establish its occupied territory, at the place where the most has been done for the population in the least amount of time. Possibly there is no place in the world where more has been done for a population than in the Zapata Swamp over the last two years.

See how unaware they are. See how completely indifferent they are to how the population thinks....  
'Our determination to resist'
Why did they need to provoke this bloodshed in our country? Why did they have to come here, in a fruitless attempt? Not to mention getting themselves all worked up because they failed. Why do they threaten us with intervention? That's the odd part; these gentlemen have such a lack of conscience and are so irresponsible, so obsessed, that after they have made our people bleed, after they took a number of valuable lives, they still threaten to kill even more, to intervene even more.

That is why we must have an answer for them. And our answer is our determination to resist, our determination that if they dare launch an attack, that will be the end of imperialism, even though it may cost us our lives. Because to us, death, a glorious death, will always be a thousand times preferable to living in slavery, living in shame under the yoke of these gentlemen! [Prolonged applause]

Death does not frighten any man or woman of dignity. What does frighten a man or woman of dignity, what frightens the people, is the idea of the yoke, the idea of some day seeing themselves governed and oppressed by this group of gentlemen who have so little respect for the peoples, for the rights of the peoples, for the aspirations of the peoples, for the independence of the peoples, the sovereignty of the peoples, the people's hope for peace, the people's hope for progress.

That does cause fear--fear that those gentlemen could be dictating the law here, imposing their law of the scaffold and the sword, imposing their yoke upon the people. Those compañeros who fell in battle at Playa Larga, Playa Girón, San Blas, Yaguaramas, in all those places, died in a glorious manner, fighting successfully to inflict a defeat on imperialism.

They deserve the most beautiful of monuments. They deserve a great monument built right there in the Zapata Swamp, in memory of the fallen, with the names of all those killed listed there. A monument telling the world that on this day in history, Yankee imperialism suffered its first great defeat in the Americas!  
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