By Guillermo Martínez.
Fifty years ago this past Sunday a young and inexperienced American president did not keep a promise made by his predecessor. Cuba, the United States, Latin America and the world is still paying for President John F. Kennedy’s mistake.
His predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, promised Cuban exiles ready to invade Cuba that the United States would support them. In addition to training and arming them, the CIA was promised that the U.S. Navy and Air Force would control the skies over the Bay of Pigs, while Brigade 2506 established a beachhead. All this was done hoping the Cuban exile force would be recognized as a government in arms.
Instead Kennedy hesitated. First he sharply curtailed pre-invasion bombing runs over Cuba. They he prohibited Americans from helping the Cuban exiles they had trained. The result was a tragic disaster that haunts the United States-Cuba relations to this day. April 17, 1961 forever changed the history of our hemisphere.
Kennedy wanted “plausible deniability.” He wanted the world to believe the United States had nothing to do with the invasion. Nobody believed him. But the Soviet Union and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro saw a weak American president and quickly pounced.
A little over a year later the Soviet Union armed Cuba with missiles that could hit more than half the cities in the United States with nuclear weapons. Decades later, KGB archives disclosed that Soviet troops in Cuba also had tactical nuclear weapons in case the United States decided to invade the island.
Never has the world been closer to a nuclear holocaust. Fortunately by October 1962, the young President Kennedy had matured and his strength and resolve forced the Soviets to blink and take out their nuclear weapons from Cuba.
All this was close to five decades ago.
To this day, Cubans have not been able to escape the iron grip of a ruthless and tyrannical Communist regime. A regime that now says it has made many mistakes and plans a new route; one that might allow Cubans to have a little bit of capitalism. Not too much; just enough, to let them escape from their economic misery.
Still despite its failures Cuba is an example of how a small nation can stand up to the mighty American nation. This belief still prevails in the hemisphere.
Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and many others believe in Cuba’s totalitarian model. Imagine what our hemisphere would be like if a young president had kept his promise 50 years ago and Cuba had not been ruled by the Castro brothers for 52 years.
Guillermo is a veteran newsman with experience in print and broadcast journalism in South Florida and throughout Latin America. He won the Inter American Press Association’s Daily Gleaner Award for editorial commentary on Latin America.