Diplomacy in the Bay of Pigs

On October 26, 51 years ago, Fidel announced the creation of the Revolutionary National Militia Granma International will be publishing a series of articles on the events leading up to the April, 1961 battle of the Bay of Pigs As we approach the 50th Anniversary of this heroic feat, we will attempt to recreate chronologically the developments which occurred during this period and ultimately led to the invasion The series will be a kind of comparative history, relating what was taking place more or less simultaneously in revolutionary Cuba, in the United States, in Latin America, within the socialist camp and in other places in some way connected to the history of these first years of the Cuban Revolution

Gabriel Molina

• IN August 1960, the 7th OAS Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in San José, Costa Rica took place – according to a Prensa Latina cable, “under the vigilance of 1,350 marines who remained in the waters of the Caribbean during the conclave in order to execute military exercises when it finished.” (1) A few days earlier, the 6th Conference had ended with the agreement to break off relations with the Trujillo regime and the partial rupture of economic and commercial relations with the Dominican Republic. Venezuela and Mexico were pressuring for this break; Cuba had broken off relations in 1959 and, for its part, the United States stated that it was studying their termination.

Christian Herter, U.S. Secretary of State, based his strategy at the 7th Conference on so-called extra-continental speeches, in reference to the warning issued by the prime minister of the Soviet Union who, in response to the threat of aggression against Cuba, stated that he was prepared to defend the island by providing it with light and heavy weapons and tanks, in conjunction with an offer to purchase all the sugar that Eisenhower had rejected by cutting the U.S. quota by 700,000 tons a few days previously. Nikita Khrushchev said, in a figurative sense, that if it was necessary, Soviet artillery could support the Cuban people with rocket fire if the Pentagon’s aggressive forces dared to launch an attack on Cuba. He reminded the Pentagon that, as recent tests had indicated, the USSR had rockets that could land precisely on a previously fixed target at a distance of 13,000 kilometers.

We journalists approached Peruvian Foreign Minister Raúl Porras Barrenechea, whose government had agreed to convene the 6th Conference, despite the suspicion that the controversial issue aroused in Cuba. Porras surprised us all by stating, “There can be no intervention in Cuba; not one single foreign minister thinks differently.” (2) He added that the Cuban government had the full backing of his people and thus the other American nations would have to respect its decisions.

A pro-Somoza Nicaraguan came up, having recognized Porras, and interrupted him to ask his opinion on what was being said at the conference about there being communism in Cuba. “You can’t judge whether there is by what correspondents say,” Porras replied. “They are expressing their personal points of view. In any event, if Cuba wants to implement communism within its own borders, it has every right to do so. What it cannot do is to bring communism to the Americas. That would be interference. I’ve never heard that said. I don’t know where you got that from,” the Peruvian foreign minister added firmly, when the Nicaraguan claimed that Cuba was intervening in his country. Right there he ordered us to not continue interrupting. (3)

In the course of the meeting the threat of intervention was rejected by a group of ministers from the most important countries, headed by Venezuelan Ignacio Luis Arcaya, a member of the Democratic Republican Union (URD), which shared the government of the country with the Democratic Action Party of President Romulo Betancourt. During the meeting, it became known that the U.S. Senate had approved an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, through which any country giving aid to Cuba or selling it arms would lose its U.S. aid. (4) The Cuban media interpreted this as a threat to the conference, with the medium-term objective of weakening Cuba militarily and politically.

On August 26, Cuban Foreign Minister Raúl Roa read a substantial and strong speech which impressed all those present. In a second speech in response to Herter’s words, Roa improvised another speech in a similar mode, characterized by the sentences: “And Nikita Khrushchev didn’t say this, José Martí said it;” “And I didn’t say this, Abraham Lincoln said it,” and so on successively. Meanwhile, the U.S. delegation was caucusing in secret meetings. Given that a stalemate had been reached, a group of 11 delegates was commissioned to draft some sort of compromise solution. The U.S. Secretary of State won his declaration by the narrow majority of one vote. The text elliptically alluded to the words of Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev affirming that his country was prepared to defend Cuba in a figurative sense with its rockets, and indirectly described this Soviet position as extra-continental intervention. The resolution was forced out of the countries present by promises to the value of $800 million and was thus approved in the plenary session. Roa announced Cuba’s disagreement and withdrew, stating that famous phrase, “And the peoples of America are leaving with Cuba.” From that moment, he was known as the Foreign Minister of Dignity.

Arcaya and Porras Barrenechea voted against the declaration, defying instructions from their respective governments. The former resigned, thus creating a crisis in the Venezuelan government, given that the URD supported him and ended the coalition, and he was seconded by some members of President Betancourt’s party. Porras was dismissed from his post by Prime Minister Beltrán Espantoso. Cuba greatly appreciated the gesture of these two ministers who disobeyed their governments.

The U.S. government did not achieve its aim of obtaining “an express condemnation of Cuba on the part of the Organization of American States at the 7th Foreign Ministers Conference, despite the one-billion-dollar credits of that era utilized to buy votes. But the resolution obtained revealed the diplomatic aspect of the aggression and would be utilized to gain Cuba’s expulsion from the OAS in 1962, very much in spite of the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, on account of the fact that from March 11 through 14, the White House decided that the planned landing would be on that bay’s three beaches.

The first formal diplomatic attempt had taken place during the 5th OAS Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Santiago, Chile, from August 12 through 18, 1959. At a crucial point of the Santiago meeting, the Cuban delegation presented evidence of a frustrated invasion of the island organized by the Dominican dictator Leonidas Trujillo, which ended in farce, given that the invaders were ridiculed on being received by Fidel Castro himself, after he had led them to believe that the Cuban city of Trinidad has been taken by their allies. Raúl Castro, minister of the revolutionary armed forces, personally took the documented evidence to the Conference.

Cuba’s response to the San José Declaration obtained at the 7th Foreign Ministers Conference in Costa Rica was to establish relations with the People’s Republic of China, announced in a rally in Plaza de la Revolución on September 2, 1960, at which more than one million people acclaimed and adopted the Declaration of Havana. It was like serving two cups of tea to someone who didn’t take tea, or to the country that had declared war because Cuba had established relations with the Soviet Union.

The Declaration of Havana described the San José agreement as an interference and part of “the overt and criminal intervention that U.S. imperialism has exercised for more than one century over all the peoples of Latin America, who have seen their lands invaded in Mexico, Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic or Cuba; who have lost to the voracity of the yankee imperialists extensive and rich areas, such as Texas; vital strategic centers, such as the Panama Canal; entire countries like Puerto Rico, converted into an occupied territory (…). The spontaneous aid offered to Cuba by the Soviet Union in the event of the country being attacked by imperialist military forces can never be considered as an act of interference, but constitutes an evident act of solidarity.” (5) •
(1) Combate daily, August 25, 1960. P12
(2) Ibid. August 18, 1960. P8.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Revolución daily.
(5) Declaration of Havana.
Translated by Granma International

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