April 19 is the 50th anniversary of the victory of Cubas working people over a U.S.-organized invasion at the Bay of Pigs. Below we print an excerpt of an account by Jack Barnes that appears in Cuba and the Coming American Revolution and Playa Girón/Bay of Pigs: Washingtons First Military Defeat in the Americas. Barnes, today the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, was in 1961 an organizer of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. Copyright © 2001 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY JACK BARNES
On the morning of April 18, 1961, readers of daily newspapers across the United States woke up to front-page headlines proclaiming, Rebels Near Havana, Invade Four Provinces. Many radio stations blared an Associated Press news dispatch reporting that Cuban rebel forces had landed within thirty-eight miles of Havana and at numerous other points on the island. Citing a press release from the Cuban Revolutionary Council, the dispatch said that much of the Cuban militia had already defected to the invading forces and in the next few hours the deciding battle for the country would be fought. Rebel forces were in control of the Isle of Pines and had freed some 10,000 political prisoners held there.
Most Americans took the story as good coin, expecting to soon hear that the pro-Communist dictator Fidel Castro had been ousted.
Around the country, however, in dozens of cities and on a number of college campuses, there were pockets of individuals who knew from the beginning that every word of the AP story was a lie. We had been carrying out an intensive educational campaign for weeks to counter the Kennedy administrations mendacious disinformation efforts. We were getting ready for the invasion we knew was coming, preparing to act here in the Yankee heartland side by side with the Cuban people the moment it was launched. Between April 17 and April 19, as the battle was being fought in Cuba, we confidently took to the streets, organized speak-outs, posted marked-up newspaper clippings a couple times a day, and went on the radio asserting that, all press reports to the contrary, the U.S. government-organized and -financed invasion was being defeated, not winning.
As we had been doing for months, we pointed to the immense popularity of the revolution among the Cuban people in response to the measures the new government was organizing them to take. The Mafia-run gambling dens and brothels, a national shame, had been shut down. Land had been distributed to more than 100,000 tenant farmers, sharecroppers, and squatters. House and apartment rents, as well as electricity and telephone rates, had been slashed. Racial discrimination was outlawed and equal access not only made law but also enforced. The best public beaches, which had been previously off limits to blacks, had been opened to all. A nationwide campaign to eliminate illiteracy had been launchedpart of a broader extension of public education to the countryside, among the poor, and for women. Popular militias had formed in factories, other workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, and towns across the island, as Cubans demanded arms and military training to defend their new conquests. The huge money-gouging U.S. monopolies had been nationalized, as well as the major landed, commercial, and industrial property holdings of the wealthy Cuban families who had been the social and political base of the Batista dictatorship.
Through more than two years of popular mobilization, the workers and farmers of Cuba had begun transforming not only their country but themselves. It was precisely for this reason, we explained, that Cubans could, and would, fight to the death to defend their revolutionand do so successfully.
Only thirty-six hours after the initial AP stories made headlines across the United States, the counterrevolutionary rebel forceswho had landed not thirty-eight miles from Havana or on the Isle of Pines, but near the Bay of Pigs on the southern coast of the islandhad been ignominiously routed at Playa Girón by Cubas popular militias, Revolutionary National Police, Revolutionary Air Force, and Rebel Army. Not only the decisiveness, but also the speed of the April defeat was stunning. The strategic plan authorized by President John F. Kennedy called for the 1,500-man mercenary force to establish and hold a beachhead on an isolated slice of Cuban territory long enough to declare a provisional government and appeal for direct military intervention by Washington and its closest allies in Latin America .
This political battle that began more than forty years ago was one that changed the lives of a substantial number of young people in the United States. It transformed the communist movement here in a way that paralleled the profound changes taking place in Cuba and elsewhere around the world. Nothing since the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia has had such an impact on the class-conscious workers movement and on radicalizing youth.
U.S. court sets free anti-Cuba mercenary
What 1961 Cuban victory teaches
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