WASHINGTON — To understand the passions of the Miami Cubans, you have to go back to April 17, 1961, and the CIA's misconceived, misdirected landing of Cuban exiles without air cover to overthrow Fidel Castro.
Since then, says University of Miami scholar Max Castro, there has developed a "tangled, tragic, and dysfunctional" relationship between the Cuban exiles and the American government running through the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and even to the recruitment of Bay of Pigs veterans to break into the Watergate.
President Kennedy, who gave the order to carry out an operation conceived by the Eisenhower administration, later said, "How could I have been so stupid to let them go ahead?"
But the Bay of Pigs had more serious consequences than the embitterment of the Cuban-Americans.
Five months after the failed invasion, Kennedy met Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev in Vienna. At the end of the session he told James ("Scotty") Reston of The New York Times that Khrushchev had "bullied him and threatened him with war over Berlin."
Reston said the president's thinking was as follows: Khruschev had studied the events of the Bay of Pigs. He would have understood if Kennedy had left Castro alone or if he had destroyed him. But when Kennedy was rash enough to strike at Cuba, but not bold enough to finish the job, Khruschev concluded he was dealing with an inexperienced young man who could be intimidated and blackmailed. As a result, Kennedy told Reston, he would have to increase American troop strength in Europe and confront Communism in Vietnam to disabuse Khruschev of the idea that he was a pushover.
Historian Walter LaFeber later wrote that, "in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy resolved to redeem himself by sending more troops to Vietnam."
So, there was a line that led from the Bay of Pigs morass to the quagmire in Vietnam.
It was also the Bay of Pigs that led Castro to demand Soviet nuclear missiles for defense against American invasion.
And so the Cuban missile crisis, the closest the world has come to nuclear war, can also be credited to the chain of events that started at the Bay of Pigs.
Fidel Castro has been a bone in the throat of successive presidents since he took power in 1959.
And the Cuban-American community, by its single-minded dedication to the anti-Castro cause, has managed to guide American policy into boycotts, embargoes, sanctions against third parties, and assassination conspiracies, all of which have left the international community shaking its head in wonderment.
But for now it leaves this country shaking its head over the uproar about a child that a highly motivated minority is trying to save from Fidel Castro. If only President Kennedy had known 39 years ago how really "stupid" he was being.
Bay of Pigs created the dysfunctional relationship between the the US and Cuban exiles.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society