Cubans are marking the 50th anniversary of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion this week. Cuban exile Alfredo Duran was among the men who fought there for three straight days. He tells anchor Marco Werman why he now favors dialogue with Havana and lifting the US embargo of the island. Download MP3
Read the Transcript
The text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to email@example.com. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. The anniversary is cause for celebration in Cuba. The island’s communist regime likes to recall its victory over the 1300 exiles who landed on beaches in southern Cuba back in 1961. Then president John F. Kennedy was under pressure to oust Fidel Castro from power, but Kennedy assured Americans just days before the Bay of Pigs that US troops would not invade Cuba.
John F. Kennedy: There will not be under any conditions be an intervention in Cuba by United States armed forces, and this government will do everything it possibly can to make sure that there are no Americans involved in any actions inside Cuba.
Werman: Kennedy had inherited a different plan, hatched under president Eisenhower’s administration. The plan called for CIA-trained exiles to slip onto the island and start a rebellion. They tried to do so in mid April 1961. Almost immediately, they came under heavy fire. They were strafed by Cuban planes, two of their supply ships were sunk. Cuban-born Alfredo Duran was among the exiles whose small boats approached the Bay of Pigs under cover of darkness.
Alfredo Duran: When we first saw the coast of Cuba, we started singing the Cuban national anthem. We were ready to go and do our duty. It was a very, very emotional place. Of course, from the very beginning, things started going wrong, but at the very first night, the viewing of the Cuban coast, was probably one of the most emotional moments I’ve had in my life.
Werman: Wow. So, I mean, given the context, you were, shall we say, up for the fight. When did you realize though that the operation would fail?
Duran: Well, we realized that there was something completely wrong with the plan when we were landed into what was supposed to be a sandy beach and it was full of rocks. We landed in what basically were outboard boats, basically used for sport fishing. Many of them were ramming against the rocks and sinking. We were in the middle of the bay with all our gear and we had to swim for our lives. Then, the other thing that completely destroyed us was the basic thing that we were supposed to not be concerned with, the Cuban air force, and obviously, since very early in the morning, the Cuban air force started bombarding us and strafing us with machine guns. We obviously knew that the plan was not working. We were very much concerned on the third day, when we ran out of ammunition, we had an ammunition drop and they were for bullets for rifles that we did not carry with us, which were Springfield rifles that they dropped the ammunition, and we were carrying M1 rifles. So basically, the plan was a flop from the very beginning.
Werman: You and some of your surviving comrades went days without fresh water, you trekked through the brush, tried to survive on crabs, you were captured by Castro’s forces and went to prison. How is it that you were finally released?
Duran: Well, we were in the middle of a swamp, but there was a part of that swamp out there that was no water. As a matter of fact, when I was captured, I told the militiaman who captured me, give me some water and then shoot me, because we thought that we were all going to be killed anyway. But finally we were released because the Cuban government declared us prisoners of war and declared us mercenaries, made the United States government responsible for us, and said, you can release them in payment of a ransom. There were three prices: one for $100.000 for their leaders, $50.000 for what they consider middle and upper class, and $25.000 for what they consider lumping or lower classes of Cubans that were there. So, Bobby Kennedy created a non-profit tax free organisation which a lot of US companies made tax free contributions, that got up to 62 million dollars, which was the total price, and that was paid in food, medicine and tractors.
Werman: Years after the fighting at the Bay of Pigs you settled in the US and became a lawyer, you were active politically and became president of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, but ultimately, you were expelled from that group. Why were you kicked out, mister Duran? What sort of transformation were you going through at that time?
Duran: Well, I took the position that we had to do away with embargo and let the Cubans try to deal with our own problem, start a dialogue and start a conversation about national reconciliation and the future of Cuba. That, at that time, was not a very popular position here in Miami.
Werman: I was going to say, did you lose a lot of friends? I mean, that must’ve annoyed a lot of people.
Duran: It did annoy a lot of people, and I lost the friends that probably I didn’t want to have anyway. But at the end of the day, the position which I took is becoming a popular position now here in the United States. You still have the hardliners here, and in Cuba also, I’ve never seen anything more similar than hardliners in Cuba and the hardliners here in Miami. They want the status quo to remain. I think the changes in Cuba will come about when the new generation comes to power. The central committee in Cuba right now, more than 80% is under 55 years of age. Those people, they know Castro when Castro was up in the hills and Sierra Maestra, and they have, I’m sure, their own project for the future of Cuba.
Werman: In 2001 you returned to Cuba and met with Castro and some of the men you had fought against at the Bay of Pigs. What was that like to meet Fidel? Did you still consider him a dictator at that point?
Duran: You know, Fidel is what he is. Nobody that is in power for 50 years is not a dictator. But the fact of the matter is that I don’t view Fidel nor anybody who fought against me in the Bay of Pigs as enemy. We all , at the end of the day, are all Cubans, and I think that any Cuban that would want to kill other Cubans, who wants to bomb Cuba, who wants to see hunger and strife and death and killing, is not the right kind of Cuban. To me, what happened 50 years ago at the Bay of Pigs was a moment in history. If it were today, I would not do it. I would not take any action that would put the life of any Cuban in jeopardy, they’re not at fault. So basically, before those three days of that conference ended, there was not a single person in that room who was not friendly to each other. There was a special moment in that meeting where I was explaining the position where I was, which was a little town called San Blas, to Fidel Castro on a big board, and I was explaining what happened there. We had been bombarded all night long for three days by mortars and cannons, and Fidel Castro called the gentleman who was in charge of that bombardment, who is now a colonel or a general in Cuba, and he walked up to me and stretched his hand, and we shook hands. When that gentleman and I, who were fighting each other just across a little highway for three days, shook hands, everybody in that room stood up and started applauding.
Werman: That is really impressive. What do you think of president Obama’s Cuba policy right now? Is it encouraging for you?
Duran: No, it is not. I think that president Obama, he has done what he said during his campaign what he would do, and that is that he would take away the restrictions, to allow Cuban Americans to go to Cuba as many times as they want to and visit their family. He has done that, but I think that the embargo policy should be lifted completely. It’s about time that the Cuban government recognizes their failings, deal with the issues of Cuba, deal with the problem of a lack of civil and political rights, and deal with the problem that we need to resolve the economic problems of Cuba. The embargo has only served as an excuse not to resolve that, or as an excuse for those failures.
Werman: Cuban-born attorney Alfredo Duran fought at the Bay of Pigs 50 years ago this week. Thanks for speaking with us.
Duran: My pleasure. Thank you.
Werman: You can hear president Kennedy addressing Americans after the Bay of Pigs invasion and watch video of a very youthful Fidel Castro speaking to reporters in English. We have links at the world dot org.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.