of the Bay of Pigs
Ventura-Varona controversy ends in a brawl
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
A chair flying through the air
landed on the anatomy of Carlos Prío Socarrás, one
of the latest politicos to arrive in Miami as part
of plans for invading Cuba.
It was the climax of a row that had
been brewing for weeks between Batista’s henchmen
Esteban Ventura and Rolando Masferrer, and
Eisenhower’s embezzlers Tony Varona and Prío
Socarrás. The former called themselves the "purists"
and called those who arrived in Florida after them "arrivistes"
Batista’s men began to arrive in the
United States on the same date of the revolution,
January 1, 1959 and were very quickly well received.
Their merits were recognized. Others went later.
Ventura did not make any distinction
between Tony Varona and Miró Cardona (the latter
elected provisional president of Cuba in exile). The
motive for the Batista followers’ unrestrained
dislike was that the newer arrivals had taken
control of funds provided by the U.S. government and
managed via the CIA. Moreover, these were even more
substantial that those received by them.
A few days before the brawl, one of
pro-Batista newspapers launched an attack on the
group set up by the CIA as the leading front for the
invasion that was being planned.
The article read, "The Democratic
Revolutionary Front is in agony. Its ‘coordinator’
(Tony Varona) is attempting to make it react; he is
traveling to Washington, to New York, to Guatemala.
He is knocking on all the doors. He is inviting in
those he previously shut out by considering himself
the owner of the keys, but one thing is a fact. The
FRD has already won itself an R.I.P." The piece went
on to add, "All of that, linked to the unbridled
management of the considerable funds placed in their
hands, which have only been utilized to create
divisionism, obstruct the anti-Castro battle and
provide a group of favorites with the comfortable
lifestyle they have been leading – and are still
leading in exile – in better economic conditions
than they previously enjoyed in Cuba."
The newspaper commentary followed a
highly polished technique of coercion. It gave the
real information at its disposal, but did not enter
into details, while letting it be known that it was
prepared to come out with them if there was no
Effectively, Tony Varona had had to
travel to Guatemala to try and silence protests
resulting from the CIA having placed former Batista
soldiers at the head of the invasion brigade,
despite the fact that he himself mistrusted them.
And he had been forced to travel to New York and
Washington, because the U.S. government had imposed
Miró Cardona above him and wanted him to include on
the payroll Manuel Ray, a known deserter, formerly
minister of Public Works. Given that both of them
had been members of the first 1959 Cabinet in Cuba,
the U.S. administration felt that the group would be
The part about the "easy lifestyle"
that they led with generous checks from the CIA,
which was investing several million dollars in the
project, was not true, merely a matter of "the grass
being greener on the other side.
Upon the arrival of the Cuban exile
"leaders" at a event organized in a ship fitted out
with silk chairs by the FRD, Batista’s men took up
position in the street to jeer. Arguments and
punches broke out before U.S. police agents
intervened to restore order with clubs.
Physically and mentally in pain,
Prío refuted the idea that the meeting had been
called in order to create divisions. Miró Cardona
summed it up, also complaining about the incident,
and ended in his habitual pompous style, "Untainted
history will pass on from communion to communion, as
long as there is a Cuban woman to hold the chalice
The fight, of course, was not only
between pro- and anti-Batista Cubans. It was about
something more than that, which was defined by
Lomberto Díaz, former minister in the Auténtico
Party governments and head of Tony Varona’s
organization in Cuba until he fled the country.
Together with César Lancis and others, Lomberto
declared, passing judgment on the conduct of his
leader Tony Varona, "We have painfully witnessed the
deplorable spectacle presented by men who,
disconnected from Cuban realities, have abandoned
themselves to a frenetic struggle for personal power…"
That is what the "democrats who were
going to liberate Cuba" were like. Knowing them
well, Fidel judged them as: "The greatest thing that
has happened to them in their lives is to go as
beggars to the yankee government, asking for money,
asking for weapons, and to seek out the FBI and the
CIA, the yankee henchmen, to supply them with
weapons and make plans for them and train them for
terrorist campaigns… These are the men who are going
to come and defeat the armed people? Don’t make us
laugh! …Because that government of mercenaries won’t
even last 24 hours (in Cuba)."
SENATOR FULBRIGHT’S DISCREPANCIES
At the same time, in Washington,
President Kennedy invited James William Fulbright,
chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to
spend the Easter weekend with him in Palm Beach.
Both of them were Catholics.
When he received the invitation,
Fulbright, with the help of Pat Holt, a member of
his working group, drafted a memo which he gave to
the president on boarding the plane that would take
them south, close to Cuba.
The memo, which contained the
Senator’s points of view on U.S.-Cuba relations,
read, "The issue of U.S. policy toward Cuba
presupposes choosing between two practical
"1) Overthrowing Castro’s regime.
"2) Tolerance toward Castro’s
regime, combined with efforts to isolate him and
separate the rest of Latin America from him.
"A third possibility could be added
– to modify the Castro regime. But Castro has had
many opportunities to modify it and has rejected
them, for which reason this course would seem more
theoretical then real. However, perhaps it shouldn’t
be rejected until the President can be consciously
satisfied, via any appropriate private channel, that
it is not possible to take this course."
Fulbright went on to add: "One
cannot count on the collapse of the Castro regime or
its violent overthrow without the aid of internal
"However, almost daily, the press
brings us accounts and in some cases, photos of
Cuban exiles undergoing military training on secret
bases in Florida or somewhere in the Caribbean, or
in Guatemala, for an invasion of Cuba. It is a known
secret that the U.S. government has pressured exiles
to join and that the United States is supporting, or
at least tolerating, activities on its soil with the
objective of returning to Cuba…"
After analyzing the pros and cons –
for the United States – of the possible courses of
action in relation to Cuba, Fulbright stated:
"We also have to face the prospect
that an invasion of Cuba by exiles would meet with a
strong resistance that the exiles, on their own,
would not be able to overcome. So then the question
arises as to whether the United States wants to drop
the attempt (probably in the hope that its role
could be hidden) or whether the United States will
respond with the necessary progressive assistance to
ensure success. In the final instance, this would
include the use of armed forces, and if we get to
that point, even with a cover of legitimacy, we
would be throwing away the work of 30 years trying
to make people forget about early interventions…"
Fulbright’s ideas prompted further
concerns for the new President. Kennedy knew that
Fulbright’s arguments were right, but…