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Bad Blood: U.S.-Cuban Relations after Fidel

Howard Jones is the author of The Bay of Pigs (which will be published in August), and University Research Professor in the Department of History at the University of Alabama. We asked Jones to react to Fidel Castro’s resignation, below are his thoughts.

Given relations between the United States and Cuba over the last 50 years, one should not expect matters to change despite Fidel’s resignation. There is bad blood between the two countries. And no event did more to make this bad blood than the Bay of Pigs, almost routinely referred to as a “fiasco.” On April 17, 1961, Cuban exiles trained and sponsored by the United States launched an invasion of the island whose planning began in the Eisenhower administration but whose execution occurred during the Kennedy administration.

As I did the research for my forthcoming book on the Bay of Pigs, I was struck again and again by how “bad 9780195173833.jpgblood” was barely a metaphor, and reflected not just relations between Cuba and the United States, but between the CIA and the State Department, and between the Cold War veterans of the Eisenhower administration and Kennedy’s brash new brain trust. However it might have started as a hare-brained CIA scheme, an extension of equally hare-brained attempts to assassinate Castro, the Bay of Pigs invasion became a personal battle between Kennedy and Castro, two young leaders taking command of their countries’ destinies in a tumultuous time.

And it was hare-brained. Recently released “Family Jewels” from the CIA show publicly for the first time that agency director Allen Dulles approved recruiting the Mafia as a partner in the assassination plan. Richard Bissell, the CIA’s brilliant Deputy Director of Plans, was a novice in charge of “black operations” and yet the architect of both the invasion and the assassination tracks of the plan. Under his tutelage, the CIA recruited underworld luminaries John Roselli (a roving ambassador who made offers a client could not refuse), Sam Giancana (the psychopathic Godfather of the north in Chicago), and Santo Trafficante (the cool and sinister Godfather of the south).

After the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedys became obsessed with removing Castro by either assassination or a second invasion, this time dependent on direct American military force. The president even condoned assassination as an instrument of foreign policy in an executive action program based in the CIA and code-named ZR/RIFLE. To eliminate Castro, the Kennedy White House established Operation Mongoose, overseen by the attorney general and run by legendary OSS/CIA figure Edward Lansdale, which tacitly approved assassination by placing no restrictions on the methods used. CIA operative William Harvey headed a three-pronged effort to assassinate the Cuban leader: the executive action program; Task Force W (part of Mongoose); and a revived Mafia alliance.

Contrary to the traditional story, the Kennedy administration resumed its efforts to dispose of Castro after the Cuban missile crisis, primarily out of anger over his welcoming Soviet missile sites. Both before and after the crisis the CIA colluded with Rolando Cubela (code-named AMLASH), a high-ranking Cuban military officer who had become disenchanted with Castro and wanted to kill him. Ironically, Cubela was meeting with a CIA officer in Paris on November 22, 1963, when news arrived of President Kennedy’s assassination. Were the two events related? President Lyndon Johnson thought so: “Kennedy tried to get Castro, but Castro got Kennedy first.”

All these factors have combined to leave a legacy of ill will that post-Kennedy presidential administrations have refused to reassess, at first for reasons relating to the Cold War paranoia stemming from the anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthy era, and afterward, for fear of alienating a huge Cuban populace inside the United States, whether for or against Castro.

This legacy still hovers like a dark cloud over any talk of normalizing relations. For a host of reasons, the animosity between Washington and Havana remains almost visceral. The loss of trust will take generations to restore, and nothing contributed to it more than the Bay of Pigs.

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