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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Bay of Pigs - 40 years on
The victory 40 years ago set US-Cuban relations
Daniel Schweimler reports from Cuba.

In the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba, former enemies, Americans and Cubans, stand talking about the events of 40 years ago when Cuban exiles, backed by the US, came ashore here to try to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro.

Among the invading force was Alfredo Duran who now lives in Miami and came to Cuba with the conference delegation in search of understanding and reconciliation.

"The gentleman who was essentially directing that fire against me came up to me and we just automatically shook hands. At that moment it seemed that this process took on a new view for me, a new emotion," he said.

"Basically we were leaving behind the revenge and all the hatred and that something happened 40 years ago and now we start looking forward."

Back Home

Alfredo Duran, on his return to Miami, was thrown out of his veterans association for, as they saw it, mixing with the enemy.


...Fidel attended the reunion too
The conference was intended to be an academic exercise, with historians mulling over declassified documents. But it also brought together former fighters and decision makers from both the United States and Cuba.

One of them was Arthur Schlesinger, former advisor to the then US president, John Kennedy.

"The day before President Kennedy was inaugurated he had a meeting with President Eisenhower who urged him to go full speed ahead on the Cuban expedition. I do not believe for a moment that President Kennedy would ever have initiated this adventure," he said.

Fidel Castro, in his customary military uniform, also attended many of the sessions, sitting with men who 40 years ago wanted to kill him.

Tip-off

More than 1,500 Cuban exiles were trained in Guatemala by the CIA.


Thirteen Days: Hollywood tackles US-Cuban issues
They came ashore at the Bay of Pigs with US air and naval support. As the recently released documents show, the Cubans had substantial intelligence information about the invading force and were ready for the attack.

They destroyed the invaders support vessels and left them isolated in swamp land with nowhere to go. After 65 hours of fighting the US-backed force was defeated.

Two-hundred men had been killed while the rest were captured.

Relations between the United States and Cuba have not improved a great deal since the Bay of Pigs.

Following the Cuban victory, there was no chance of reconciliation with Washington and Cuba looked to the Soviet Union for support.

Cuba this year, as it does every year, is celebrating its victory against what it sees as the imperialist oppressor to the north.

Cuban television viewers are constantly reminded about the importance of the victory.

But all those present at the conference, both Cubans and Americans, said they hoped their new understanding might help bridge the gap in one of the last remaining Cold War conflicts.

The head of the National Security Archive in the United States, Thomas Blanton, summed up the mood of the conference: "The documents show that over the years since the Bay of Pigs there have been many, many opportunities for dialogue, many missed opportunities.

"But today, I can say with some pride, and significant joy that this opportunity we did not miss and I salute you all. Thank-you."

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The BBC's Daniel Schweimler reports from Cuba
Former enemies met face-to-face

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