Goodwin's memo was one of several declassified U.S. government papers made available at the March 22–24 Cuba-U.S. conference in Havana marking the 40th anniversary of the Cuban victory at the Bay of Pigs against a U.S.-organized counterrevolutionary invasion force. In less than 72 hours of combat, Cuba's volunteer militias, Rebel Army troops, air force, and revolutionary police crushed the 1,500 mercenaries of "Brigade 2506," who surrendered on April 19, 1961, at Playa Girón (Girón beach).
The document was declassified in 1993 and publicly released three years later. It gives a glimpse of the problem the U.S. capitalist rulers confronted then, and still confront today, in their unceasing efforts to undermine the Cuban Revolution: their inability to intimidate, buy off, or divide the revolutionary leadership, and the determination of Cuba's working people to defend their democratic and social gains in face of Washington's aggression.
Goodwin, like John F. Kennedy, a Harvard graduate and Democratic Party liberal, became a speechwriter for Kennedy and special assistant to the president. On numerous occasions over the years he has described his August 1961 conversation with Guevara. These later accounts, however, reveal a casual disregard for the facts.
In a July 5, 2000, op-ed piece in the New York Times, for example, Goodwin wrote, " 'I want to thank you for the Bay of Pigs,' Che Guevara told me in Uruguay during an unexpected meeting at a party for a Latin American diplomat in 1961. 'It solidified our rule and discouraged our middle-class enemies.'"
No one can believe that Guevara said "Bay of Pigs." In Cuba the battle is universally identified as Playa Girón, where the victory was won--and not the Bay of Pigs, the term used in the United States and other countries to refer to the invasion.
Goodwin's later version of the conversation, moreover, has Che referring to "our middle-class enemies," a phrase not in the 1961 memo reprinted below. At that time, Goodwin wrote that Guevara "then went on to say that he wanted to thank us very much for the invasion--that it had been a great political victory for them--enabled them to consolidate--and transformed them from an aggrieved little country to an equal."
Quite a different version, both in what Guevara is reported as saying and what is omitted in the later account! One is a report addressed to the president marked "secret," and with the author's memory still fresh. The other is an account for public consumption, aimed at prettying up the Kennedy administration and bolstering anticommunist prejudice against Cuba.
Goodwin claims that after Washington's defeat at the Bay of Pigs, and the October "missile" crisis a year and a half later, Kennedy sought to improve relations with the Cuban government. In the New York Times piece published last July, Goodwin suggests that Kennedy was looking for "some rapprochement" with the Cuban government but that such efforts were cut short by Kennedy's death in November 1963.
In fact, the Kennedy administration never let up its attacks on the Cuban Revolution, which included economic, military, and diplomatic pressure. Washington used the summit conference in Uruguay to get the OAS to rubber-stamp the launching of the Alliance for Progress. The U.S.-sponsored program allocated $20 billion in "development" loans to Latin American governments over a 10-year period in exchange for their cooperation in opposing Cuba's revolutionary government. It aimed to isolate Cuba and undermine the rise in working-class and peasant struggles throughout Latin America that gained inspiration from the example of the Cuban Revolution.
In January 1962 the OAS--which Guevara called "the United States Ministry of Colonies"--did Washington's bidding and expelled Cuba from its ranks.
Washington simultaneously escalated its campaign of counterrevolutionary terror and sabotage, as well as economic pressure. Another document presented at the conference in Havana earlier this year was a second memo from Goodwin to the U.S. president, dated November 1, 1961, outlining a proposal to organize a "command operation" against Cuba and recommending it be headed by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the president's brother. This became Operation Mongoose, a covert campaign of U.S.-organized terror and attempted assassinations. The program was organized directly out of the White House under the direct supervision of John and Robert Kennedy.
The administration also began organizing preparations for a direct military invasion, which culminated in Washington bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war with the October 1962 "missile" crisis. What stayed the warmakers' hand was a massive mobilization of Cuban working people in defense of their revolution.
After the October 1962 events, during the period Goodwin claims it was seeking a "rapprochement" with Cuba, the Kennedy administration continued to organize terror actions against the island. In 1963 the White House set up a counterrevolutionary unit, based in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, that carried out commando raids on Cuban shore facilities. At the initiative of Robert Kennedy, Manuel Artime, a leader of the mercenary force defeated at Playa Girón, was put in charge of the operation, which also involved two other leaders of Brigade 2506, Erneido Oliva and José Pérez San Román. Another participant in the terror operation was Félix Rodríguez, a CIA agent who in October 1967 in Bolivia, when Che Guevara was captured in combat by government troops there, helped direct the execution of the revolutionary leader.
At the August 1961 summit in Punta del Este, Guevara, who was head of the Ministry of Industry and president of the National Bank at the time, led Cuba's delegation. On their arrival, the Cuban revolutionaries were met by a crowd of thousands of supporters. In his speech to the gathering Guevara reviewed the U.S. record of aggression against Cuba. He explained why the Alliance for Progress would not bring development to Latin America and how it was aimed against Cuba and its example for workers and peasants throughout Latin America. The full text of the speech is available in Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution, published by Pathfinder.
Footnotes are by the Militant.
THE WHITE HOUSE
August 22, 1961
MEMORANDUM FOR THE PRESIDENT
Subject: Conversation with Commandante Ernesto Guevara of Cuba
The conversation took place the evening of August 17 at 2 A.M. Several members of the Brazilian and Argentine delegations had made efforts--throughout the Punta del Este Conference--to arrange a meeting between me and Che. This was obviously done with Che's approval, if not his urging. I had avoided such a meeting during the conference. On Thursday we arrived in Montevideo and I was invited to a birthday party for the local Brazilian delegate to the Free Trade area. After I arrived, and had been there for about an hour, one of the Argentines present (who had been on the Argentine delegation) informed me they were inviting Che to the party. He arrived at about 2 A.M. and told Edmundo Barbosa DaSilva of Brazil and Horatio [Horacio] Larretta of Argentina that he had something to say to me. The four of us entered a room, and the following is a summary of what took place. (The Argentine and Brazilian alternated as interpreters.)
Che was wearing green fatigues, and his usual overgrown and scraggly beard. Behind the beard his features are quite soft, almost feminine, and his manner is intense. He has a good sense of humor, and there was considerable joking back and forth during the meeting. He seemed very ill at ease when we began to talk, but soon became relaxed and spoke freely. Although he left no doubt of his personal and intense devotion to communism, his conversation was free of propaganda and bombast. He spoke calmly, in a straightforward manner, and with the appearance of detachment and objectivity. He left no doubt, at any time, that he felt completely free to speak for his government and rarely distinguished between his personal observations and the official position of the Cuban government. I had the definite impression that he had thought out his remarks very carefully--they were extremely well organized. I told him at the outset that I had no authority to negotiate my country' s problems, but would report what he said to interested officials of our government. He said "good" and began.
Guevara began by saying that I must understand the Cuban revolution. They intend to build a socialist state, and the revolution which they have is irreversible. They are also now out of the U.S. sphere of influence, and that too is irreversible. They will establish a single party system with Fidel as Secretary-General of the party. Their ties with the East stem from natural sympathies, and common beliefs in the proper structure of the social order. They feel that they have the support of the masses for their revolution, and that that support will grow as time passes.
He said that the United States must not act on the false assumptions that (a) we can rescue Cuba from the claws of communism
(he meant by other than direct military action); (b) that Fidel is a moderate surrounded by a bunch of fanatic and aggressive men, and might be moved to the Western side; (c) that the Cuban revolution can be overthrown from within--there is, he said diminishing support for such an effort and it will never be strong enough.
He spoke of the great strength of the Cuban revolution, and the impact it had on liberal thought throughout Latin America. For example, he said, all the leftwing forces in Uruguay were joining forces under the banner of Cuba. He said civil war would break out in many countries if Cuba were in danger--such war might break out in any event. He spoke with great intensity of the impact of Cuba on the continent and the growing strength of its example.
He said that in building a communist state they had not repeated all/any of the aggressive moves of the East. They did not intend to construct an iron curtain around Cuba but to welcome technicians and visitors from all countries to come and work.
He touched on the matter of the plane thefts. He said he didn't know if I knew but they had not been responsible for any hijackings.1 The first plane was taken by a young fellow who was a good boy but a little wild and who is now in jail. They suspected that the last plane was taken by a provocateur (a CIA agent). He is afraid that if these thefts keep up it will be very dangerous.
He began to discuss the difficulties of the Alliance for Progress. He asked me if I had heard his speech at the closing of the conference. I said that I had listened to it closely. He said that it explained his viewpoint on the Alliance for Progress. (In this speech he said the idea of the Alliance was fine, but that it would fail. He spoke also of the play of historical forces working on behalf of communism, etc.--that there would be either leftists revolutions or rightists coups leading to leftist takeovers, and there was also a strong chance that the commies would get in through popular election.) He then said he wished to add that there was an intrinsic contradiction in the Alianza--by encouraging the forces of change and the desires of the masses we might set loose forces which were beyond our control, ending in a Cuba style revolution. Never once did he indicate that Cuba might play a more direct role in the march of history.
He then said, now that he had discussed our difficulties he would like to discuss his own problems--and he would like to do so frankly. There were in Cuba, he said, several basic problems.
1. There was disturbing revolutionary sentiment, armed men and sabotage.
2. The small bourgeoisie were hostile to the revolution or, at best, were lukewarm.
3. The Catholic Church (here he shook his head in dismay).2
4. Their factories linked naturally to the U.S. for resources, especially spare parts and at times the shortage of these resources made things very critical.
5. They had accelerated the process of development too rapidly and their hard currency reserves were very low. Thus they were unable to import consumer goods and meet basic needs of the people.
He then said that they didn't want an understanding with the U.S. because they know that was impossible. They would like a Modus vivendi--at least an interim modus vivendi. Of course, he said, it was very difficult to put forth a practical formula for such a modus vivendi--he knew because he spent a lot of time thinking about it. He thought we should put forth such a formula because we had public opinion to worry about whereas he could accept anything without worrying about public opinion.
I said nothing, and he waited and then said that, in any event, there were some things he had in mind.
1. That they could not give back the expropriated properties--the factories and banks--but they could pay for them in trade.3
2. They could agree not to make any political alliance in the East--although this would not affect their natural sympathies.
3. They would have free elections--but only after a period of institutionalizing the revolution had been completed. In response to my question he said that this included the establishment of a one-party system.
4. Of course, they would not attack Guantanamo.4 (At this point he laughed as if at the absurdly self-evident nature of such a statement.)
5. He indicated, very obliquely, and with evident reluctance because of the company in which we were talking, that they could also discuss activities of the Cuban revolution in other countries.
He then went on to say that he wanted to thank us very much for the invasion--that it had been a great political victory for them--enabled them to consolidate--and transformed them from an aggrieved little country to an equal.
Guevara said he knew it was difficult to discuss/negotiate these things but we could open up some of these issues by beginning to discuss subordinate issues. He suggested discussion of the airplane issue. (presumably, we would use the airplane issue as a cover for more serious conversation.)
He said they could discuss no formula that would mean giving up the type of society to which they were dedicated.
At close he said that he would tell no one of the substance of these conversation except Fidel. I said I would not publicize it either.
After the conversation was terminated I left to record notes on what had been said. He stayed at the party, and talked with the Brazilian and Argentine.
The Argentine fellow--Larretta--called me the next morning to say that Guevara had thought the conversation quite profitable, and he told him that it was much easier to talk to someone of the "newer generation."
The above is substantially a complete account of the entire conversation.
1. In his speech at the Punta del Este conference Guevara reported that several Cuban planes had been hijacked and flown to Miami, and that Washington had refused to return them.
2. The Catholic Church hierarchy, which had been a staunch defender of the old bourgeois-landlord order, responded with hostility to the social and political gains made by workers and peasants, opposing their encroachments on the prerogatives and privileges of the former ruling classes, such as the expansion of public education and the land reform.
3. On Aug. 6, 1960, in response to escalating U.S. economic aggression and sabotage, the workers and farmers government in Cuba, following massive popular outpourings, nationalized major U.S.-owned companies. Later that year the revolutionary government nationalized foreign- and Cuban-owned banks.
4. The U.S. government maintains a naval base on Cuban territory at Guantánamo Bay, against the will of the Cuban people. It has served as a launching pad for numerous U.S. provocations against the Cuban Revolution.
Cuba and the Coming American Revolution
Cuban unionists address pressing social needs
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