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tv   Reel America Cuba Bay of Pigs - 1964  CSPAN  July 8, 2021 1:55pm-2:27pm EDT

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nonprofit organizations and you have time to get contact information. to go c-span shop.org. tens of thousands of anti-vietnam war protesters converged on washington, d.c. in may of 1971. more than 7,000 of them were arrested in a single day. tonight on american history tv, we look back 50 years at the forces that collided on the capital streets that spring with the journalist, the author of mayday, 1971. a white house at war. a revolt in the streets. and the untold history of america's biggest mass arrest. that's at 8:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv on c-span3. originally broadcast as an nbc white paper, this encyclopedia britannica he had
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haditted report tells of the 1961 invasion. it traces the diplomatic split between the u.s. and cuba. describes exiled groups opposed to the castro government. the cia's role in helping to train, equip and organization an invasion force and president kennedy's decision not to deploy the u.s. military when the plan falters. >> april 17, 1961. the bay of pigs. [ speaking foreign language ] >> in the year since he took power, fidel castro has become an enemy of the united states. in the eyes of washington, a threat to united states security in the caribbean. a plan of action against him is drawn up.
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march 17, 1960. cia chief allen dulles is told secretly, organize a cuban exile force. he is not told how the force is to be used. he is only told, get it ready. in miami, recruiting for an exile army has begun. the operation is supposed to be secret. but word of what is happening quickly leaks out. six weeks after the secret meeting at the white house, fidel castro has publicly charged that the united states is training an army to invade cuba. meanwhile, in miami, there are 50 exile groups of every political hue, from former supporters of batista to former supporters of castro. they have only one thing in common.
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they want to overthrow fidel. the cia's problem is to find a way to unify them. [ speaking foreign language ] >> translator: the people of cuba will overthrow castro. normally the people are the ones who overthrow dictatorships. >> the announcement of the formation does not receive the expected attention. the summer of 1960 is a bad time for the united states. other events occupy the headlines. a u-2 shot down over the soviet union. nikita khrushchev in paris insulting the president of the united states. it is at this moment that the soviet tanker "peking" slipped into havana harbor, carrying a cargo of crude oil, setting off a chain reaction. castro orders american companies
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to refine the soviet oil. they refuse and castro seizes the refineries, offering no reparations. over angry cuban protests, the united states retaliates by cutting off imports of cuban sugar. castro seizes more united states property. now in the summer of 1960, the united states and cuba have reached the point of no return. in washington the eisenhower administration is now convinced it is in the united states' national interests to get rid of fidel castro. at this moment, in guatemala, a cuban exile army is being created by the cia. a cuban exile air force with b-26 bombers. they are the instruments with which the cia plans to overthrow fidel castro. havana. summer, 1960.
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fidel castro admits publicly for the first time there is unrest inside cuba. counterrevolutionary activity. among his opponents now is his former minister of public works, the leader of the mrp. >> the mrp was highly organized and well-extended over the whole country. it reached almost every second of the cuban life, cuban institutions, professional organizations, labor unions, the militia, the army. and we have people inside of fidel castro's parties. >> the mrp operates in the cities. it's an underground movement specializing in sabotage.
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in the escambray mountains is another anti-castro force, the guerillas. in september 1960, it has become a serious threat to fidel castro. he comes to the escambray to take personal command of the military operations. but resistance continues. the u.n. general assembly. while he is in new york, he sees his new ally, nikita khrushchev. the date is september 26, 1960. the council will tell the
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assembly that the united states is seeking to overthrow him, is interfering in cuba's internal affairs. a few weeks later, the democratic candidate for president is in new york, campaigning. he issues a statement in which he says the united states is not doing enough for the cuban exiles. he says the united states ought to help them. in their television debate, vice president nixon disagrees. >> now, i don't know what senator kennedy suggests when he says that we should help those who oppose the castro regime, both in cuba and without. but i do know this, that if we were to follow that recommendation, that we would lose all of our friends in latin america. we would probably be condemned in the united nations. and we would not accomplish our objective. i know something else. it would be an open invitation for mr. khrushchev to come in.
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>> as the votes are counted on november 8, it is clear that a key issue has been, who knows best how to handle castro. it is the closest presidential election in the united states history. >> but we finally emerge successfully. as far as the next program, i went to the country with very clear views of what the united states ought to do in the '60s. i have been elected and therefore i'm going to do my best to implement those views. >> even as the president-elect speaks, in guatemala, the force he has called for in his campaign, the force that nixon has denied exists, that eisenhower had created, that castro has denounced, is getting ready. in cuba, meanwhile, castro is sending his best troops into the escambray to destroy the guerillas, now cut off from arms and supplies. >> translator: thousands of fidel's militia men began offences against us.
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they moved out the farmers, killed the cows, pigs, and chickens, cut down the fruit trees, burned the houses, took away the food. in view of this and the lack of help, we had to flee the island. >> the revolt is crushed. castro has eliminated one threat to his survival. as 1960 ends, he goes on television to warn the cuban people about another. he says the united states is preparing to invade cuba. the invasion will come before eisenhower leaves office. he calls for a general mobilization. the united states and cuba break diplomatic relations. tension mounts. the moment of armed confrontation between cuba and the united states is near. january 20, 1961. >> so let us begin anew.
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remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness and sincerity is always subject to proof. let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate. >> for a moment, there is a breathing spell in relations between the united states and cuba, a break in the tension that has been mounting for six months. in havana, the militia is demobilized. they are sent back to the fields. the leaders join to harvest the crops. but in washington, cuba has not been forgotten. in his campaign, the new president has promised to do something about cuba. now he must decide what to do. but his advisers are new and inexperienced. he must rely on the professionals.
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for military advice, on general lenmister and the joint chiefs, on the cia which is handling the cuban problem, political and military aspects as well as intelligence. cia director allen dulles briefed the president on the situation and told the president the details of the invasion plan known by the code name operation pluto. at that point the landing was to be made in trinidad, 100 miles east of the bay of pigs. the united states was to supply air cover. as time went on, both of these parts of the plan were to be changed with the approval or at least the acquiescence of the cia and the pentagon. at this point dulles simply wanted an okay from the president to continue the preparations. he got it. from this day on, operation pluto gets top priority from the cia. the cia tells the cuban exiles they must agree on a single leader if they want the united states' help.
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the cubans choose dr. jose mirro once castro's prime minister, he has remained neutral in the power struggle. now he comes to new york to become head of the anti-castro cubans. at his press conference dr. mirro speaks for the first time as president of the new revolutionary council. [ speaking foreign language ] now the cubans are united. the mrp has joined the new coalition reluctantly. they don't like the way the cia is dominating the operation. but they assume the united states' participation ensures the effort's success. they don't want to be left out of any new cuban government. and they feel they've reached a satisfactory understanding with the cia. at this moment in washington, the president is under heavy pressure.
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he is being pressed to okay the invasion plan. a major source of this pressure is cia reports on what is happening inside cuba. >> we knew that the cuban pilots were being trained in czechoslovakia. we knew they were going to have very shortly available under cuban direction, and i'm inclined to think if a move were to be made short of intervention, probably this is the area of time it had to be made. >> another source of pressure is the guatemalans. unrest is growing there. the communists and the army are demanding removal of the brigade from the camp. the government feels threatened. the president has not yet made up his mind. go ahead with the invasion or cancel it. on april 4, a decisive meeting is held. obviously nothing official has ever been said about it. but from this perspective,
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certain facts are now apparent. on april 4, the cia urges the president to go ahead with the invasion. the joint chiefs agree, if the cia estimate is correct, if the brigade has control of the air. only senate foreign relations chairman speaks out against the invasion, tells the president privately it is immoral, a mistake, it will fail. the decision can no longer be delayed. the president's experts have told him to go ahead. his staff has not argued against it. the decision is now his alone. he makes up his mind early on the morning of april 5, 1961. operation pluto, the invasion of cuba, is approved. miami, the first week of april 1961. invasion fever is rising among the cuban exiles.
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everyone seems to know the invasion is coming soon. volunteers pour into exile headquarters. the churches are filled. prayers are said for the men of the brigade. april 10. in guatemala, c-46 transports begin to move the brigades out of the camp. destination, nicaragua. at this moment, dr. mirro and the revolutionary council are in new york, 2,000 miles away. in their hotel they don't know what is happening. no one tells them. behind the scenes they are still deeply divided on how to defeat castro. on april 12, the president holds a press conference. >> has a decision been reached on how far this country will be willing to go in helping an anti-castro invasion? >> well, first, i want to say that there will not be on any
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condition the intervention in cuba by the united states armed forces. and this government will do everything it possibly can. and i think it can meet its responsibilities to make sure that there are no americans involved in any actions inside cuba. >> preparations for the invasion continue. from texas the united states takes off the airfield. >> a united states naval task force puts to sea for caribbean maneuvers scheduled for the next week. the united states marines are at sea in transport to take part in the maneuvers. april 13th, at puerto cabeza, nicaragua, the exile invasion fleet is loading. >> havana, dawn, saturday, april 15th. b-26 bombers attack castro's airfield.
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the u.n. saturday morning. the cuban foreign minister. >> i have been instructed by the revolutionary government of cuba to denounce before this committee the vandalistic aggression carried out today at dawn against the territorial integrity and political independence of cuba. the responsibility for this act of imperialistic piratery falls squarely on the government of the united states of america. >> he has made a number of charges that are without any foundation. i reject them categorically. and i would like to make several points quite clear to the committee.
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regarding the two aircraft which landed in florida today, they were piloted by cuban air force pilots. these pilots and certain other crew members have apparently defected from castro. no united states personnel participated. no united states government airplanes of any kind participated. these two planes, to the best of our knowledge, were castro's own air force plane. and according to the pilots they took off from castro's own air force fields. i have here a picture of this. it has the markings of the castro air force right on the tail, which everyone can see for himself. >> one of the planes is at a miami airfield. it is identified as a b-26 attached to the exiled cuban brigade.
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castro's b-26s have no nose guns. the pilot is identified from a newspaper picture as a member of the brigade. the airstrike he took part in was intended to destroy castro's air force. two more are planned. castro has been dealt a serious blow. but his entire air force has not been destroyed. the crucial fact is three jet planers are untouched. >> official united states propaganda. >> the airstrike has humiliated the united states before the world. it has humiliated adlay stephenson who did not know that what he told the u.n. was not the truth. the united states reacts to the world outcry against the bombing. the other two airstrikes are postponed. this decision leaves castro with
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three undamaged jets. these jets will be a key to the failure of the invasion. sunday, april 15th, the exile leaders do not know the invasion fleet is already at sea. >> translator: awaiting me are the steps of the plane that brought me from miami where two people who identified themselves as officials of the american agency. they took me to a private room, and in a short while the other leaders of the revolutionary council arrived. from there, we entered two cars and were driven to philadelphia where we took an immigration department plane. >> we arrived on an unoccupied airport somewhere in florida. at that moment we didn't know which airport it was. we were taken to a house, and armed guards were placed around.
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>> for the next 48 hours the cuban exile leaders will be kept under guard in florida in this house, while 90 miles away an invasion is being carried out in their name. dawn, monday, april 17th, bay of pigs, cuba. >> the first units of the brigade reached the beach without opposition. among them is humberto of the second battalion. >> this is the way the battle began. three men went forward to look as observers to look for militia men. suddenly, they found two. they said, stop. the militiamen answered, stop. then a soldier from the rear yelled, we are an army liberation. we came to fight communism.
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the militiamen answer, fatherland of death. long live fidel castro, and the shooting began. >> you are looking at film shot in the invasion beach by german and cuban cameramen. in havana as the morning goes on, castro begins to react to the invasion. those who can be trusted are armed. castro takes personal command. the roads out of havana are clogged with troops moving up to the invasion beach. but in the first hours, the brigade pushes inland. castro has not yet been able to bring up his tanks and heavy guns. the first communicae reports satisfactory progress.
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over the beach are 12 b-26s. shortly after dawn, they are attacked by the three castro jets that survived saturday's airstrike. five of them are shot down. the brigades' communication ship and supply ship are sunk. within a few minutes, the men on the beach have lost their air cover and their supplies. now, castro can bring up his tanks without fear of air attacks. and he can bring up thousands of his milicianos. by afternoon, castro is pressing the brigade hard. how are they to survive? where are they to get help? some expected to come from the underground. there is no uprising, there is no sabotage, there is no help from the underground for the brigade.
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well, the next 48 hours, the men on the beach take a terrible pounding. they wait for help. none comes. they say they have been promised air support by their american advisers. washington says none was ever promised. only one thing is clear. the brigade is being driven into the sea. its only hope of survival is united states military intervention. on tuesday night, there is a reception at the white house to introduce congress to the new cabinet. leaders of both parties are there. next day, the society pages will call it one of the events of the season. the president leaves early, goes to another part of the white house where he confers into the night with key advisers. >> cia deputy director richard bissell had come to the president with a desperate last-minute appeal. he knew that the president had
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said there would be no intervention. but he now said the brigade was doomed unless the united states intervened, at least with air cover, from the navy task force that was standing off the beach. admiral burke speaking for the pentagon favored the intervention. secretary of state opposed it. the risk he said was too great if we now openly intervene, we would probably endanger our entire latin american position. and it would be an invitation for khrushchev to step in. the president said he would make his decision within the next few hours. >> at dawn, the president makes his decision. later he tells it to the members of the revolutionary council who have been flown from florida. >> translator: president kennedy was very firm, he repeated three times, americans shooting cubas, no, no, no. the president was very upset, and he wanted to explain to us why he had allowed the invasion to take place after he had decided against u.s. military support.
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he told us that on the day of april 13th, he sent a message to the project chief watching the brigade get ready to sail for cuba. he asked this man, whose name was jack haskins, if he still felt the brigade could win by fighting alone. president kennedy showed us a copy of the reply, signed by haskins. this document informed the president that the brigade could overthrow the castro regime without u.s. help. the president looked very angry, and he told us he had relied on such advice in making the decision to send the brigade to cuba. >> on the beach of the bay of pigs, fighting continues. the brigade has no food, almost no ammunition, no hope of help from within cuba, or from outside. at 3:45 p.m. wednesday, april
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19th, resistance ends. all those who are not killed are taken prisoner. in less than 72 hours, castro has destroyed the brigade. the american plan is now a total failure. >> the failure of the bay of pigs was not merely the failure of the cuban exiles. it was a failure of united states policy, which led to a failure of united states power. clearly, the united states had the naked power to destroy castro, but it could not ignore world opinion and use this power. it could not risk the repercussions that might follow the slaughter of cubans. and the occupation of cuba by
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united states forces. it could not risk the possible escalation for nuclear war. one alternative that suggested itself was indirect intervention carried out secretly under cia's supervision. the cia's solution was a carefully controlled military operation. it ignored, for the most part, the underground inside cuba, which could not be controlled. left-wing former castro supporters considered politically unreliable were shut off from participation. no real effort was made to bring about an uprising of the cuban people. the divided and mercurial leaders were felt to be undependable, and all real control was taken out of their hands. the cia put its faith in the brigade, small, politically reliable, controlled by united states agents. an attempt was made to use the brigade and the cubans as an instrument of the united states policy. the tactics were reminiscent of the united states big stick diplomacy.
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but fidel castro did not collapse at the first sign of opposition. as many latin american dictators had in the past. as a result, the cuban exile brigade was destroyed on the beach while the cuban exile leaders were held in cia custody and the united states task force stood by helplessly. this was probably the low point, the worst moment for john f. kennedy in his three years in the white house. as president, he took full responsibility for this failure of united states policy, this misuse of the united states power. although the total blame was clearly not his.
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weekends on c-span2 are an intellectual feast. every saturday american history tv documents america's story and on sundays, book tv brings you the latest in nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these television companies and more including comcast. >> you think this is just a community censor? no. >> reporter: comcast is partnering to create wi-fi enabled lifts so people can be ready for anything. comcast. along with these television companies support c-span 2 as a public service. tens of thousands of anti-vietnam war protesters converged on washington, d.c. in may of 1971. more than 7,000 of them were
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arrested in a single day. tonight on american history tv, we long back 50 years at the forces that collided on the capital streets that spring with the journalist lawrence roberts. the author of mayday 1971. a white house at war. a revolt in the streets. and the untold history of manager's biggest mass arrest. that's at 8:00 p.m. eastern here on american history tv on c-span3. 60 years ago on april 17th, 1961, there was a failed invasion at cuba's bay of pigs. next on reel america, a compilation from the 1959 cuban revolution through end of april 1961. the chronology reveals how initial enthese. i can't for fidel castro turned to skepticism, then opposition .

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