The U.S. has made public two never-released volumes from its official classified history of the 1961 failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, detailing the close relationship between the CIA and two unpopular Central American leaders who provided bases to prepare for the attack.
The release Monday came in response to a lawsuit filed in April by the independent, Washington-based National Security Archive. The nonprofit research group has sought for years to declassify all five volumes on the invasion. Two other volumes released Monday were previously made public but not in wide circulation. A fifth remains classified.
The invasion by CIA-trained Cuban exiles who sought to overthrow Fidel Castro's fledgling government remains a seminal moment in U.S. covert actions and is studied by military experts. It also continues to affect U.S.-Cuba relations today. The U.S. initially sought to deny a connection with the exiles.
The newly released volumes describe how then-Guatemalan President Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes helped secure the training space for the exiles in Guatemala and even wanted his own troops to participate in the Cuba invasion. He was rebuffed. At one point, he hoped the U.S. would back a multinational force to fight communism throughout Latin America.
Meanwhile, when Ydigoras' military-backed government faced a series of attacks from Guatemalan rebel forces in November of 1960, Guatemalan officials asked the U.S. for napalm to wipe out the rebels.
"(Government of Guatemala) requests if at all possible send Napalm bombs to be mounted on GAOG B'26's," states one cable.
The request was denied for technical reasons. But the U.S. did provide flyovers to help quell the unrest.
The cozy relationship between Nicaraguan President Luis Somoza, and his brother General Anastasio Somoza and the CIA, already well documented, is also on display in detail rarely seen. The brothers provided the base from which the Bay of Pigs air attacks were launched.
"It just goes to show you the priorities of the United States during the Cold War. The top priority was to overthrow Castro, and it was a low priority to put pressure on very unpopular regimes like those of Somoza," said Peter Kornbluh, head of the Archive's Cuba Documentation Project, who filed the lawsuit.
Following training in Guatemala, about 1,300 exiles landed in Cuba on April 17, 1961. Two days earlier, Cuban exile pilots had helped destroy portions of Cuba's small air force, but Castro had enough jets remaining to take out the invaders' supply ships. Nearly 300 Cuban and exile soldier were killed in the fighting. A few captured exiles were executed and others were held prisoner for years. Most of the more than 1,200 captured exiles were released by Castro a year later in an exchange brokered by the Kennedy administration.
The volumes were compiled from original CIA internal documents and from interviews by the agency's official historian Jack Pfeiffer in the mid-1970s. Pfeiffer also petitioned unsuccessfully to have all five volumes declassified.
Kornbluh said he believes the fifth volume has yet to be released because it contains Pfeiffer's strong critique of the CIA. But at least some of Pfeiffer's conclusions are included in the released documents.
"The question that will always remain unanswered is whether the whole shooting match at the BOP might have been cancelled if the Department of State representatives in either Guatemala or Nicaragua had been better qualified and had been given better guidance from Washington..." he wrote.
On the web: National Security Archive: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB353/index.htm