Thursday, February 10, 2011

50th Anniversary of the Bay of Pigs: Eisenhower tramples right to travel to Cuba

• Granma International is 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

By Gabriel Molina

• THE unprecedented prohibition of January 17, 1961 – three days before the presidential inauguration of John F. Kennedy – was an attempt to close off a source of income to the island and force its surrender through hunger. The plan to launch an invasion during the 1960 electoral campaign so that Vice President Nixon could take advantage of the result was postponed when it was realized it needed to be further developed. Up until that point there was confidence that a repetition of the successful 1954 CIA operation against President Arbenz of Guatemala would be enough for Nixon to beat the charismatic Senator Kennedy.

But Kennedy’s victory in November 1960 made it more urgent to activate the operation before Cuba’s rapid military strengthening progressed any farther. Hence the measure breaking off diplomatic relations signed by Eisenhower on January 3, 1961, less than three weeks before his presidential term ended.

A meeting at CIA headquarters attended by Tracy Barnes, assistant deputy director for plans under Richard Bissell, and J.C. King, chief of the Latin America Division, had approved the idea of infiltrating an agent into Havana’s military leadership to provoke an accident leading to the death of Raúl Castro, the second leader of the Revolution. According to the U.S. Senate Church Committee, the order was given in a cable datelined July 21, 1960 to the CIA center in Cuba. (2)

The attack on freedom of movement represented by the travel ban was concealed under the pretext that normal security services could not be provided to U.S. citizens after the breaking off of diplomatic relations. Prior to this a series of measures, both secret and public had led to virtually eliminating U.S. tourism to Cuba. But the government feared visits by groups traveling to the island despite the adverse propaganda.

Having seen that Cuban realities were did not match what was being said in the United States, these groups of liberal and progressive Americans condemned the anti-Cuban campaigns and made statements of solidarity with Cuba.

Meanwhile, it was announced that U.S. National Airlines was suspending flights to Cuba.

Fidel clarified the underlying reason for the measure: the Revolution constituted an example, not only for the peoples of Latin America, but also for the U.S. people.

When the measure came into effect, The New York Times published a letter on the ban from Alice Hussey Balassa, an American citizen who had returned to her country after a short vacation in Cuba. Her letter referred to signs of material progress among the many benefits achieved by the population: ending extreme poverty in the barrios, reducing illiteracy, increasing housing for workers and campesinos and building schools and campesino cooperatives.

Official documents declassified by the National Security Archive revealed that on December 12, 1963, less than one month after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy, still U.S. Attorney General at the time, sent a communiqué to Secretary of State Dean Rusk urging him to withdraw the regulations on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba. On that occasion, Robert Kennedy described the limitations on travel to the island as a violation of American liberties. In those same documents, found in the Congressional library and in that of President John F. Kennedy and declassified June 29, 2005, the Attorney General added that it was impractical to arrest, bring charges and commit to prosecutions in bad taste against citizens wishing to travel to Cuba.

Kennedy’s initiative was supported by McGeorge Bundy, National Security adviser, who also described them in another memo as inconsistent with traditional American liberties.

However, on December 13, 1963, the day after Robert Kennedy’s appeal, George Ball, under secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, discounted any relaxation in the restrictions. The decree was maintained by President Lyndon Johnson, who alleged that a decision on Cuba during the 1964 elections would hurt him. Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy after his assassination, also rejected subsequent action by the Attorney General to normalize relations.

A meeting about the measures did not include any representative of Robert Kennedy, although he had initiated the proposal to withdraw them. Instead, Ball proposed to warn people considering a trip to the island that, if they did so, their passports would be invalidated and they could face prosecution.

Despite Robert Kennedy’s continuing attempts to rescind them, the measures were upheld by President Johnson, until they were left without effect by James Carter during his 1976-80 presidential term. But the restrictions were re-imposed by President Reagan, who succeeded Carter in January 1981. At the beginning of his second term in office (1996-2000), Clinton allowed travel endorsed by licenses for religious, academic and other purposes. After that, Bush Jr. reinstituted the ban during the 2004 electoral campaign. This year, the Obama administration reversed the measures returning to the situation established by Clinton in the context of his Track II policy: granting licenses for person to person contact. In essence, they make no dent whatsoever in the blockade.

On the same afternoon following the assassination of the President, Robert Kennedy asked John McCone, who replaced Allen Dulles as CIA director, if the agency was responsible for the crime against his brother. Robert knew that the CIA was controlled by Richard Helms, an intelligence professional appointed as its Deputy Director and Director of Plans, who always regarded Robert’s activities with scorn.

In the following months, still as Attorney General in the Johnson administration, Robert was quietly investigating groups of CIA officers and Cuban gangs, whom he got to know and to suspect of involvement in his brother’s death.

Five years later, at the point of contesting the presidency against Richard Nixon, he was even more convinced that attempts to blame Cuba for the assassination were part of a CIA-Cuban gang conspiracy.

When Robert stated for the first time during an electoral meeting, in response to a question on the issue, that if he won the presidency he would reopen an investigation into the assassination, he was endangering the CIA’s well-guarded secret.

The conclusions of the Congressional Special Committee which investigated the assassination of the president from 1976-1978 included a demand that the Justice Department reopen the investigation. But the CIA refused to open the files on the case, which it concealed from the House Select Committee chaired by Democrat Louis Stokes.

In the spring of 2007 it was announced that members of a group of CIA officers suspected of having participated in the assassination of the President, including George Joannides, chief of Psychological Warfare at the JM/WAVE station, were present, outside of their functions, in the hotel where Robert Kennedy was assassinated, after his bid for the presidency was secured. Since then, new evidence revealed by investigators points to reopening the case, but the CIA has remitted files on the tragic events to a period of 50 years before they can be opened.

According to the book Brothers… by researcher David Talbot, diplomat and journalist William Attwood, a participant in the negotiations authorized by the President a few days before the assassination and some close friends of Robert Kennedy, revealed that "Helms put an intercept on [eminent journalist] Lisa Howard’s telephones." (3) For this reason, the Attorney General also suspected that the CIA group and the Cuban mafiosi with whom they were working in relation to conspiracies against Fidel, were also conspiring to perpetrate the assassination.

Given that Robert was John’s right-hand man and the actor of his ideas and actions, "some close Democrat friends of the Attorney General nicknamed Bobby ‘Raúl’ (4) joking about a certain similarity to Fidel and Raúl in his missions. •

(1)Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960, Volume VI (Cuba)

(2) Church Committee Report. Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders. B-Cuba, Pp 71.

(3) David Talbot. Brothers. The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years. Simon & Schuster. 2007, P. 233.

(4) Ibid. Pp. 92.

Havana. February 10 , 2011