Even though some of our group stayed out late, we were all ready to leave Havana at 8am (more or less) this morning. Some travelers said they were really beginning to feel at home, and they really appreciated staying at Hotel Parque Central and benefitting from its location.
Continuing our people-to-people program, we headed southeast from Havana towards a very important American historical site: La Bahia de los Cochinos—the Bay of Pigs. We traveled about two and a half hours through the lush Cuban Countryside, stopping every hour or so for coffee, drinks, or bathroom breaks. About noon we arrived at the small but fascinating Bay of Pigs Museum—Museo Playa Giron, named after the primary beach where the fiasco took place. We saw a short film with video I had never seen before. It was interesting and humbling to see the results of one of America’s worst foreign policies ever. The Cubans already knew about the invasion (as did most of the rest of the world). Several ships were sunk. Six U.S. pilots flew combat missions under C.I.A. orders without President Kennedy’s knowledge. Four were shot down and killed. Christopher Baker wrote, “Cubans had installed tall, extremely bright lights right on the beach. ‘It looked like Coney Island,’ recalls Gray Lynch, the C.I.A. point man who ended up directing the invasion. The brigade had also been told that ‘no communications existed within 20 miles of the beach.’ In fact, there was a radio station only 100 meters inland.”
The museum displayed photos of the 161 local Cubans who died in the three-day battle in 1961. The invading brigade lost 114 men, and 1189 were captured. Most of them were eventually returned to the U.S. in exchange for $53 million in food and medical supplies. This policital and military disaster happened only a few months into Kennedy’s administration. He and his brother Robert became obsessed with removing Castro from power, and plans were drawn up for a full-scale invasion the following year. It was thwarted when the Soviets installed nuclear-tipped Russian missiles, which were removed when Kennedy pledged to not invade Cuba. In 1963, there were multiple C.I.A. attempts to assassinate Castro. In the spring of that year, Castro publicly declared that if the assassination attempts continued, he would not be responsible for anything that might happen. These assassination attempts were unknown to members of the Warren Commission, which investigated and reported on the assassination of Kennedy. The most critical, secret documents regarding the assassination are scheduled to finally be released in 2017, when Fidel will be over 90 years old (if he lives that long).
We had lunch and drinks at a comfortable, open-air restaurant about a mile from the museum. After that we left the beach area on the south coast and headed across the island towards Cuba’s north coast. There were no direct highways, so our bus zig-zagged back and forth on local roadways. This gave us a closer look at small towns and villages along the way.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the beach town of Varadero. We continued on to our hotel—the oceanfront Melia Varadero. We checked-in, made plans for dinner, and had a chance to rest before eating. We continued our people-to-people program by talking with Cubans who work at our hotel. All were eager to interact with us, and seemed genuinely friendly to us Americans. Our plans tomorrow are to visit a hospital and make more donations. After that we will visit more sights on this beautiful peninsula. But for now—I plan to get some sleep!