It is thought that humans first came to the Cuban island from South America around 3500 B.C. These people were fishers and hunter-gatherers, and were joined some time later by the agricultural Arawak people. A distinct migration began when pottery-makers traveled down the Orinoco River in present Venezuela and out to the Caribbean islands, populating islands from Trinidad to Puerto
Rico between 500 BC and 200 BC. Islands were not necessarily settled in sequential order. By the time the Spanish arrived in the late 15th century, three-quarters of Cuba’s 100,000 indigenous people were Taino-speaking Arawaks, the rest were Siboneyes and Guanajatabeyes.
Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Cuba on October 28, 1492, during his initial westward voyage. In honor of the daughter of Ferdinand V and Isabella I of Spain, his benefactors, Columbus named it Juana, the first of several names he successively applied to the island. It eventually became known as Cuba, from its aboriginal name, Cubanascnan.
Up to the moment when the conquest of Cuba began (1510), the island was surrounded by "mysteries", insofar as what lay inside it was truly unknown. The origins of this mystery can be traced back to the impression made on the Spaniards by Columbus’ second voyage, during which they visited the southern coast of Cuba, an apparently inhospitable land, full of swamps and bordered by keys and sand banks that hindered navigation, all this in contrast to the northern coast, which displayed a vigorous nature. There was a contradiction between an apparent richness and a no less apparent’ poverty. On the other hand, we already know that, in his second voyage, Columbus decided to decare that Cuba was not an island. Nonetheless, Juan de la Cosa, in his map of 1500, presented Cuba as an island; but this knowlwdge of the true geographical condition of the country remained partially secret, since the threat of fine and persecution on the Discoverer’s part lay heavy over all. There must have been many secret voyages, carried out against the privileges zealously mantained by Columbus; and one of them, attributed to Alonso de Ojeda or to Vicente Yanez Pinzon along with Juan de la Cosa must have been carried out around 1498, and served to prove that Cuba was an island. Besides this, hardly had the Spaniards settled in the Antilles when numerous clandestine or occasional voyages were undertaken with the purpose of stealing Indians and plundering the riches of the territory. On the other hand, conquerors came to Cuba pursuing runaway natives from Haiti (Hispaniola). Naturally, Cuba became known as far as its coasts were concerned, but no one knew what lay in the interior: whether or not there was any gold, whether or not they had commercially available products in immediate supply. These mysteries had to be solved.
The conquest of Cuba in 1510 was organized by means of three groups. One group, aboard a ship, would follow the coastline on the north, keeping in contact with a second group who would start by land toward the west. A third group and Diego Velázquez himself would sail along the southern coast. The land group was commanded by Panfilo de Narvaez, accompanied by Father Bartolome de las Casas. He started out from Bayamo, where the first massacre of Indians took place. In his advance through the territory, he terrorized the Indians, once again attacking them with ferocious cruelty in the place called Caonao. They learned of the presence of shipwrecked Spaniards and succeeded in finding two of them -women, at that- from whom they learned that the Indians had killed the others and that there remained one survivor among them. While in the zone of Sabaneque (North of Las Villas) they learned of the existence of gold to the south; and leaving a group of men behind, the others went on toward the west until they reached what is now the Province of Pinar del Rio. In Havana they were joined by a shipwrecked Spaniard, Garcia Mexia. When the heads of the expedition met at Jagua, Velazquez ordered that sixty men should remain in Havana and that Narvaez, aboard the brig, should continue to the western end (Guaniguanico and Guanahacabibes), as he eventually did. With this the occupation of the territory was consummated.
Colonization of the island began in 1512, when Diego Velázquez established the town of Baracoa. Velázquez subsequently founded several other settlements, including Santiago de Cuba and Havana in 1514. Havana was one of the most important Spanish cities in the New World. What Spain found in Havana was an easily protected harbor and excellent staging area for the return voyage to Spain. By 1511 Spain had regular settlements with the port town of Havana being established in 1514. The Spanish Silver fleet would start its collection in Venezuela and Peru, making stops in Panama and along the coast of Mexico. As the ships collected their cargo, they would head for the safe harbour of Havana, where they would form a massive Flota before heading back to Spain. It was hard to keep such an operation a secret and just about every pirate and smuggler in the Caribbean saw the waters around the Cuba as the place to go plundering. The islands of the Florida Keys became the staging area for pirates who lay in wait for the Silver Fleet as it approached Havana. Pirates would mingle among the saloons and whore houses in Havana and listen to the idle gossip for any information when the ships would be arriving. It was common knowledge by all seafaring men that Spain sent two fleets a year back to the home land. Typically the fleets came to America in the late summer. They would winter around Cartegena, Vera Cruz, and Acapulco. In the Spring the ships would make their way to Havana, Once assembled, they knew they had just a few short months before the Hurricanes would make safe passage to Spain an impossibility. The Spaniards knew it, the pirates knew it, and the Spaniards knew the pirates knew it.
The pirates had little trouble finding out when and where the the silver fleets would be coming from. Many of the Spanish colonists throughout the "Main" and in Havana were more than willing to tell them anything they wanted to know, for a price. You see, the Spanish royal family controlled the "Casa de Contratación" or House of Trade and stipulated that merchants within the colonies could only trade with specific merchant seamen. In other words they told the Spanish colonists that they were not allowed to trade with other towns in the new world or make trade arrangements with any settlements of foreign governments. The colonists had to buy goods that were brought to the colonies from Spain and could only sell goods to the same ships.
As time passed, the town and it’s harbor became well fortified, with the forts, Castillo de los Tres Reyes del Morro and Castillo de San Salvador de la Punta protecting the entrance of the harbor. A fleet of Spanish galleons would also patrol the water in search of pirates. And if this were not enough, every night, large chain that was actually drawn across the mouth of the harbor to prevent sabateurs from entering the harbor and sinking ships. The reefs outside the harbor added to the protection as well as added to the loss of many silver ships. All of these measures made Havana one of the best fortified cities in the New World. Despite all of these measures, Havana would repeatedly get invaded and on more than one occasion it was sacked by pirates or foreign nations.
The Spanish transformed Cuba into a supply base for their expeditions to Mexico and Florida. As a result of savage treatment and exploitation, the aborigines became, by the middle of the 16th century, nearly extinct, forcing the colonists to depend on imported black slaves for the operation of the mines and plantations. Despite frequent raids by buccaneers and naval units of rival and enemy powers, the island prospered throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Restrictions imposed by the Spanish authorities on commercial activities were generally disregarded by the colonists, who resorted to illicit trade with privateers and neighboring colonies. Although deeply suspicious of England’s expanding commercial interests, Spain at first remained neutral in the Seven Years War. Lured by the promise of Minorca and Gibraltar, however, Charles III of Spain declared war against England in January 1762. England’s naval supremacy had already given her the upper hand in the West Indies, and in June a large British fleet landed an army near Havana. Yellow fever and malaria took a heavy toll on these forces, but reinforcements from North America made it possible to continue the siege of Morro Castle, the key to Havana harbor. The castle fell on July 30, forcing the city to surrender two weeks later, opening the port to international trade and increasing slave trade. Following the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War in 1763 the Spanish government liberalized its Cuban policy, encouraging colonization, expansion of commerce, and development of agriculture. Between 1774 and 1817 the population increased from about 161,000 to more than 550,000. The remaining restrictions on trade were officially eliminated in 1818, further promoting material and cultural advancement.
During the 1830s, however, Spanish rule became increasingly repressive, provoking a widespread movement among the colonists for independence. This movement attained particular momentum between 1834 and 1838, during the despotic governorship of the captain general Miguel de Tacón. Revolts and conspiracies against the Spanish regime dominated Cuban political life throughout the remainder of the century. In 1844 an uprising of black slaves was brutally suppressed. North American agricultural interests in the American South, growing weary of defending their slave-reliant economy to the rest of the nation, had been interested in expanding their slave-based economy into the Caribbean nation of Cuba for years. U.S. President James Polk had tried in vain to purchase the great island from the Spanish. in 1848, a Venezuelan named Narciso López had raised an army of several hundred Americans, mostly adventurous and speculative Southerners, with the intention of invading Cuba. Federal authorities attempted to prevent Lopez from leaving American shores with this force, but he managed to sail out of New Orleans. What followed was remarkably like the Bay of Pigs invasion of a century later, and equally ill-fated. This "filibustering" expedition managed to land in Cuba but it failed to generate a rebellion. A second invasion during the summer of 1851 eluded Fillmore’s attempts to stop it. This time, the invader’s luck ran out completely. Routed on the beaches by the Spanish, the insurgents were either executed—their leader, Narciso López, among them—or enslaved. Offers by the U.S. government to purchase the island were repeatedly rejected by Spain.
On October 10, 1868 revolutionaries under the leadership of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes proclaimed Cuban independence. The ensuing Ten Years’ War, a costly struggle to both Spain and Cuba, as 200.000 lives were lost. In 1876 Spain sent General Arsenio Martínez Campos to crush the revolution . Lacking organization and significant outside support, the rebels agreed to an armistice on February 8, 1878 (Pact of Zanjón), the terms of which promised amnesty and political reform. A second uprising (La Guerra Chiquita, "The Little War"), engineered by Calixto García, began in August 1879 but was quelled by superior Spanish forces in autumn 1880. Spain gave Cuba representation in the Cortes (parliament) and abolished slavery in 1886. Other promised reforms, however, never materialized. Importation of cheap labor from China was ended by 1871. In 1893 the equal civil status of blacks and whites was proclaimed.
Although certain reforms were inaugurated after the successful revolt, the Spanish government continued to oppress the populace. On February 23, 1895, mounting discontent culminated in a resumption of the Cuban revolution, under the leadership of the writer and patriot José Martí and General Máximo Gómez y Báez. The U.S. government intervened on behalf of the revolutionists in April 1898, precipitating the Spanish-American War. Intervention was spurred by the sinking of the battleship U.S.S. Maine in the harbor of Havana of February 15, 1898, for which Spain was blamed. When President McKinley signed the Joint Resolution passed by Congress on April 19, 1898, demanding Spanish withdrawal from Cuba, Spain understood it as a declaration of war. The Spanish fleet was caught wholly unprepared in Manila and was destroyed by Admiral Dewey’s fleet in Cavite on May 1, 1898. Admiral Pascual Cervera sailed towards the Caribbean all the while recognizing that his mission was hopeless. The Spanish government, however, felt that it had to fight a war to protect against a military revolt or a Carlist putsch that would have toppled the royal dynasty and the new constitutional system. General Blanco ordered Cerveras fleet to sail out of Santiago de Cuba, in the mistaken belief that the fleet could perhaps escape having to surrender to the United States without a fight. It was sunk in only a few hours on July 3, 1898. The land battle was not so spectacular and much more difficult. The battles of El Caney and San Juan caused great losses and wounded on both sides. Spanish troops defended Santiago mightily, but since they were cut off from supplies and reinforcements, they decided to capitulate on July 17, 1898 in the belief that further resistance would be useless. By this time, everyone in Spain had to accept defeat. The Conservatives, naturally, were only too glad to have the Liberals sign the
armistice on August 12, 1898, and the Treaty of Peace in Paris, on December 10, 1898, by which Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba. Even the Spanish request for a new and impartial investigation of the U.S.S. Maine’s destruction was denied. On January 1, 1899, the Spanish colonial government withdrew and the last captain General, Alfonso Jimenez Castellano, handed over power to the North American Military Governor, General John R. Brook. Spain left behind a devastated country. An American military government ruled the island until May 20, 1902, when the Cuban republic was formally instituted, under the presidency of the former postmaster general Tomás Estrada Palma.
The Cuban constitution, adopted in 1901, incorporated the provisions of the Platt Amendment. It gave the United States Guantánamo Bay as a naval base and allowed the US to enter Cuba if it felt things were out of control. Certain improvements, notably the eradication of yellow fever, had been accomplished in Cuba during the U.S. occupation. Simultaneously, U.S. corporate interests invested heavily in the Cuban economy, acquiring control of many of its resources, especially the sugar-growing industry. Popular dissatisfaction with this state of affairs was aggravated by recurring instances of fraud and corruption in Cuban politics. The first of several serious insurrections against conservative control of the republic occurred in August 1906. In the next month the U.S. government dispatched troops to the island, which remained under U.S. control until 1909. Another uprising took place in
1912 in Oriente Province, resulting again in U.S. intervention. With the election of Mario García Menocal to the presidency later in the same year, the Conservative Party returned to power. On April 7, 1917, Cuba entered World War I on the side of the Allies.
Mounting economic difficulties, caused by complete U.S. domination of Cuban finance, agriculture, and industry, marked the period following World War I. In an atmosphere of crisis, the Liberal Party leader, Gerardo Machado y Morales, campaigned on a reform platform and was elected president in November 1924. Economic conditions deteriorated rapidly during his administration, the chief accomplishment of which, an ambitious public-works program, was achieved by floating huge loans abroad. Before the end of his second term, he succeeded in acquiring dictatorial control of the government. All opposition was brutally suppressed during his administration, which lasted until a general uprising in August 1933, supported by the Cuban army. On September 4, 1933, at an army base in Havana called Campo Columbia, noncommissioned officers unexpectedly arrested their superiors and took over command of the island’s military forces. The "Sergeants’ Revolt" had been skillfully organized by Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar, the son of poor cane cutters from Oriente of mixed racial ancestry, who in time would become the caudillo of all Cuba. He had become acquainted with the civilian opposition during the trials held by Gerardo Machado regime. Sergeant Batista was the best stenographer in the army and had transcribed many of these trials. As soon as the students learned of the revolt, leaders of the Student Directorate (a student-faculty group from the University of Havana that was created to oppose Machado’s reelection) joined the sergeants and suggested a broadening of its base of support, thus turning a military revolt into a full blown revolution.
Machado fled to the United States, and his cabinet was replaced by a provisional government headed by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes de Quesada, the son of the nation’s founding father and a conservative, who had been a diplomat to that date. Batista invited the student leaders to nominate what was called a pentarchy, or five-man government, and the following day Céspedes was informed of the rebellion and of his removal.
U. S. Ambassador Sumner Welles was surprised by this turn of events. He requested the intervention of United States troops, but to no avail. On September 10, 1933 the pentarchy was dissolved, and one of its members, Ramon Grau San Martin, became the revolutionary provisional president, Grau was popular among the students for his political stance while at the university, where he had defended nationalism, socialism, and anti-imperialism as the basic tenets of the revolutionary program. As provisional president, he abrogated the constitution of 1901 and declared that a social revolution had been launched. Grau enacted a number of labor reforms: he instituted an eight-hour workday; declared illegal the importation of workers from the Caribbean; required that all enterprises employ a work force 50 percent of which were Cuban ; requested that all professionals join their professional organizations; and created a Department of Labor. He also denounced the Platt Amendment, purged Machado’s followers from the government, dissolved the old political party machine, and gave autonomy to the university. In protest, the United States denied recognition to Grau’s government. United States enterprises and their employees in Cuba feared for the future and, though United States warships sent to Cuban waters stayed on alert, they did not intervene. The pentarchy had given Batista the rank of colonel and the position of chief military commander of the Cuban armed forces. As such, he began promoting enlisted men into the officer corps.
A protracted period of violence and unrest followed Machado’s overthrow, with frequent changes of government. During this period the United States instituted various measures, including abrogation of the Platt Amendment, in an effort to quiet popular unrest on the island. A degree of stability was accomplished following the impeachment in 1936 of President Miguel Mariano Gómez by the senate, which was controlled by Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar. With the support of Batista, the head of the Cuban army and unofficial dictator of Cuba, the new president, the former political leader and soldier Federico Laredo Brú, put into operation a program of social and economic reform. At the end of 1939 Batista resigned his post as commander of the armed forces and ran for the presidency, under a coalition supported by the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba-PCC) and the Revolutionary Union Party (Partido Union Revolucionario-PUR); the two were merged to form the Communist Revolutionary Union (Union Revolucionario Communista-URC). In 1944 the party’s name was changed to the Popular Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Popular-PSP). Batista then defeated Ramón Grau San Martin, who ran as the candidate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (commonly known as the Autenticos), in the 1940 elections. The promulgation in 1940 of a new constitution contributed further to the lessening of political tension.
In December 1941 the Cuban government declared war on Germany, Japan, and Italy; consequently it became a charter member of the United Nations (UN) in 1945. The presidential election of 1944 resulted in victory for Grau San Martin, the candidate of a broad coalition of parties. The first year of his administration was one of recurring crises caused by various factors, including widespread food shortages, but he regained popularity the following year by obtaining an agreement with the U.S. government for an increase in the price of sugar. In 1948 Cuba joined the Organization of American States (OAS). Fluctuations in world sugar prices and a continuing inflationary spiral kept the political situation unstable in the postwar era. Carlos Prio Socarrás, a member of the Auténtico Party and a cabinet minister under Grau San Martin, was elected president in June 1948. Shortly after his inauguration a 10 percent reduction in retail prices was decreed in an attempt to offset inflation. Living costs continued to rise, however, leading to unrest and political violence.
In March 1952 former president Batista, supported by the army, seized power. Batista suspended the constitution, dissolved the congress, and instituted a provisional government, promising elections the following year. On July 26, 1953 some 160 revolutionaries under the command of Fidel Castro launched an insurrectionary attack on the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba’s second-largest city, and a simultaneous attack on the garrison in nearby Bayamo. The attacks failed, and more than fifty of the captured revolutionaries were killed. In the wake of the attack on the Moncada garrison, Fidel Castro and twenty-seven other combatants were tried and sentenced to up to fifteen years in prison. Acting as his own defense attorney, Castro gave a courtroom speech that was reconstructed by him in prison, smuggled out, and published as "History Will Absolve Me," which subsequently became the program of the July 26 Movement. The regime seemed secure, and when the political situation had been calmed, the Batista government announced that elections would be held in the fall of 1954. The Moncada prisoners were released in May 1955 after a public defense campaign forced Batista’s regime to issue an amnesty. Batista’s opponent, Grau San Martin, withdrew from the campaign just before the election, charging that his supporters had been terrorized. Batista was thus reelected without opposition, and on his inauguration February 24, 1955, he restored constitutional rule and granted amnesty to political prisoners, including Castro. The latter chose exile in the United States and later in Mexico.
Even for hot-tempered Cuba, 1956 has been a violent year. In October the two top policemen of the country were shot dead (and ten suspects mowed down by the cops). Earlier, a plan to assassinate President Fulgencio Batista was nipped, a provincial garrison was assaulted (eleven dead), an army plot was unmasked and 13 officers jailed. But what was supposed to be the main uprising was still to come. The leader was a well-born, well-to-do daredevil of 29, named Fidel Castro . As chief of a 1953 uprising in eastern Santiago de Cuba, the island’s No. 2 city, Lawyer Castro had been jailed, amnestied, exiled. In Mexico this year he pulled together a ragtag force, dubbed it the July 26 Movement (for the date of the Santiago attack), drilled it at a ranch near Mexico City. Last month Castro, crying "Liberty or death in 1956," called on Batista to step down and form a national unity government or face revolution. In Havana Castro’s followers painted "This is the year" on walls.
On December 2, 1956, however, Castro, with some 80 insurgents, invaded. The revolt got under way–again in Santiago. Machine gunners, in olive-drab uniforms with black-and-red armbands marked "26 de Julio," fired on police headquarters. At the same time they tossed grenades and gasoline bombs on the building from a nearby rooftop and burned it down, while ammunition popped inside. For a time the attackers roamed the area freely, looting a hardware store for weapons. At other towns–Holguin, Guantánamo, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara–other Castro men rebelled. Troops from Santiago’s Moncada barracks quickly regained control of the deserted streets for the government as the rebels melted away without a stand. Next day they were back, sharpshooting from rooftops. Batista sent planes and 400 more troops, and arrested known opponents of his government by the hundreds. By early this week most of the shooting had died down (dead so far: 13). But the government believed that Castro was somewhere on the island, and Mexico City news reports indicated that Castro’s irregulars might be heading for Yucatan, a mere 130 miles from Cuba. Batista declared modified martial law in Pinar del Rio, the indicated beachhead if Castro planned a small-boat invasion. On March 17, 1958, Castro called for a general revolt. His forces made steady gains through the remainder of the year, and on January 1, 1959, Batista resigned and fled the country. A provisional government was established. Castro, although he initially renounced office, became premier in mid-February. In the early weeks of the regime military tribunals tried many former Batista associates, and some 550 were executed.
The Castro regime soon exhibited a leftist tendency that worried U.S. interest in the island. The agrarian reform laws promulgated in its first years mainly affected U.S. sugar interests. The operation of plantations by companies controlled by non-Cuban stockholders was prohibited, and the Castro regime initially de-emphasized sugar production in favor of food crops. When the Castro government expropriated an estimated $1 billion in U.S.-owned properties in 1960, Washington responded by imposing a trade embargo. A complete break in diplomatic relations occurred in January 1961.
When the Central Intelligency Agency decided that it was time to get some foreign bases out of sight of the US public opinion to complete the training of the Brigade 2506’s soldiers and pilots – already training in South Florida-, Guatemala popped up on the maps quickly. With a similar tropical environment as Cuba, and ruled by a government more than friendly, the ‘agency’ soon began to negotiate with the Guatemalan government the establishment of two secret bases, one for training the brigade’s soldiers and the other, a small air base, to complete the training of pilots. The deal also included the total support of the Guatemalan Army in security matters among other things.
The first base to be created was code-named ‘JMTrax’. Located on a coffee plantation called ‘La Helvetia’ in the foothills between Quetzaltenango and Retalhuleu departments, JMTrax served as a training camp for the ground forces of the brigade. Originally, the land on which the base was established, belonged to Roberto Alejos, a wealthy landlord very well connected to the Guatemalan government. In September 1960, the first troops arrived to JMTrax. The Cubans were flown from Florida to San Jose Airbase and then trucked up to the plantation, where they began advanced military training. At first, the Cubans pilots were there too, since their Airbase was under construction yet, but two weeks after the arrival, they were finally moved. The Airbase, code-named ‘JMMadd’ (known to the Cubans as ‘Rayo Base’), was basically a 4800ft long paved runway, coupled with an array of barracks, warehouses and supply shops scattered around a main building that served as administrative and command center. This base was very near to Retalhuleu city, right between the road to Champerico port and the railroad to Mexico.
JMMadd was disguised at all times as a Guatemalan Air Force base, despite the obvious lack of local personnel. Thus many of the CIA planes based there were painted in Guatemalan Air Force Colours. On the other hand, the case of the B-26s was somewhat different: the planes had been delivered officially to the Guatemalan goverment, but right after their arrival all but two were ‘leased’ to the CIA. Thus, the Cubans and CIA pilots involved in the operation trained in aircraft sporting the blue-white-blue colours, while the local Air Force pilots wondered where the new planes were. Most of the Cuban pilots were also checked out in C-46s, but their main task was to become efficient B-26 drivers, which they did and had the chance to prove over the skies of Playa Girón. On their part, a group of North American pilots concentrated their efforts in flying supply missions between JMMadd and JMTide, which was the code-name for the CIA airbase in Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. These flights were carried out using the faithful Douglas C-54s. JMMadd was supplied by C-54s flying from Miami and South Florida. In contrast with the flights between the two secrets bases, these flights were carried out by ‘foreign national’ pilots, mainly from Europe and Asia under CIA’s contract. The end of JMMadd as a CIA secret base began in late March when the B-26 crews were transferred to Nicaragua, and came for good on April 10 when the last troops were flown to JMTide together with all the equipment for the invasion. The Air Base was ‘returned’ to the Guatemalan Air Force.
In the early morning of 15 April 1961, eight CIA B-26B, with FAR markings but piloted by cuban exiled crews, took off from Happy Valley in Nicaragua and headed to Cuba. At 6:00 AM, the planes attacked La Libertad airbase where they destroyed a Sea Fury, among other planes. Seven people were killed. Later that same morning, another Sea Fury was destroyed in a hangar of the MOA bay mining company. Shortly after, the San Antonio de los Baños Airbase and the Antonio Maceo Airport were attacked by the B-26Bs. By the end of that day, the FAR was left with less than half of its original air power. There remained only two B-26C, two Sea Furies, and two T-33A at San Antonio de los Baños Airbase, and only one Sea Fury at the Antonio Maceo Airport. On the other hand, two of the attacking B-26 were damaged by ground fire, one of them managed to reach Key West with one engine feathered and low on fuel, and the other landed at Miami IAP in almost the same conditions.
Around 2:00 AM on 17 April, the CIA/cuban exiled assault force reached the shore at Playa Girón but soon they were discovered by an army patrol. The soldiers alerted the nearing bases and several skirmishes broke up. The two surviving Sea Furies were deployed from the San Antonio airbase, and within fifteen minutes they were over the area, making several low passes and strafing the invading forces. When the FAR B-26Cs arrived and began to attack the invaders, the Sea Furies headed to the sea in search of the mother ships. Soon, they were located and the Sea Furies began to attack them. The Sea Fury FAR 541, damaged with rockets the command and control ship "Marsopa" and later, sunk the main supply ship "Houston". Now the invading forces had no command post and almost all the supplies of ammo, food and communications for the invasion were in the bottom of the sea with the "Houston".
One of the Sea Fury (FAR 542), was lost to AAA fire from an invading ship while he was trying to shot down a Curtiss C-46 of the invading forces. Soon after, the four T-33A arrived and began strafing the ships while they were trying to reach international waters. With the worsening of the situation for the invading forces due to the swampy terrain and the strong defense showed by the Cuban Army, four B-26B were deployed from Nicaragua, but after entering the area, one was shot down by a T-33A and another by the Sea Fury. A third B-26B was badly damaged by a Sea Fury (possibly FAR 543). Both surviving B-26B managed to escape to Miami. Near the end of that day, the Sea Fury FAR 541 strafed the invading ship "Rio Escondido" near international waters. From then on, the two surviving Sea Furies concentrated only on ground attack missions against the invasion forces. Within the next 72 hours, the FAR gained total air superiority over the invading force. By 20 April two more B-26B were shot down by the FAR’s T-33A, and on 21 April, ten of their twelve B-26B were destroyed. Attempts to escort the bombers with Nicaraguan Mustangs were made by the invading force, but the idea was quickly discarded. The Mustangs could not reach Cuba, engage in combat and then return to Nicaragua. These planes just didn’t had the range to do the job. By Wednesday April 21, the invading troops were pushed back to their landing zone at Playa Girón. Surrounded by the cuban army and constantly hammered by FAR aircraft, some began to surrender while others fled into the hills. In total 114 men were killed and 1189 became Castro’s prisoners during the failed invasion. The captives were ransomed, with the tacit aid of the U.S. government, in 1962, at a cost of about $53 million in food and medicines.
American-Cuban relations grew still more perilous in the fall of 1962, when the United States discovered Soviet-supplied missile installations in Cuba. U.S. President John F. Kennedy then announced a naval blockade of the island
to prevent further Soviet shipments of arms from reaching it. After several days of negotiations during which nuclear war was feared by many to be a possibility, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed, on October 28, to dismantle and remove the weapons, and this was subsequently accomplished. For the rest of the 1960s U.S.-Cuban relations remained hostile, although, through the cooperation of the Swiss embassy in Cuba, the U.S. and Cuban governments in 1965 agreed to permit Cuban nationals who desired to leave the island to emigrate to the United States. More than 260,000 people left before the airlift was officially terminated in April 1973. Despite several efforts by Cuba in the United Nations to oust the United States from its naval base at Guantánamo Bay, leased in 1903, the base continues to be garrisoned by U.S. Marines.
Many of Castro’s policies alienated Cuba from the rest of Latin America. The country was expelled from the OAS in 1962, and through most of the 1960s it was persistently accused of attempting to foment rebellions in Venezuela, Guatemala, and Bolivia. In fact, Che Guevara, a key Castro aide, was captured and summarily executed while leading a guerrilla group in Bolivia in 1967. Meanwhile, Cuba continued to depend heavily on economic aid from the Soviet Union and Soviet-bloc countries. In 1972 it signed several pacts with the USSR covering financial aid, trade, and deferment of Cuban debt payments, and also became a member of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON).
The first congress of the Cuban Communist Party was held in late 1975. The following year a new national constitution was adopted. Among other provisions, it increased the number of provinces from 6 to 14 and created an indirectly elected National Assembly. The assembly held its first session in December 1976 and chose Castro as head of state and of government.
In the mid-1970s Cuba emerged from diplomatic isolation. At a meeting in San José, Costa Rica, in July 1975, the OAS passed a "freedom of action" resolution that in effect lifted the trade embargo and other sanctions imposed by the organization against Cuba in 1964. Relations with the United States also began to improve; U.S. travel restrictions were lifted, and in September 1977 the two nations opened offices in each other’s capitals. The United States, however, warned Cuba that relations could not be normalized until U.S. claims for nationalized property had been settled and Cuba reduced or terminated its activites in Africa. Cuban presence in Africa had begun inconspicuously in the mid-1960s, when Castro provided personal guards to such figures as President Alphonse Massamba-Débat of the Congo.
In 1966 a United Nations resolution terminated South Africa’s mandate over the former German colony of South West Africa, also known as Namibia. The white-minority government of South Africa, however, refused to give up its administration and domination of the territory. Black nationalist Africans promptly established a guerrilla liberation front, the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), and began to harass the whites. SWAPO was weak and ineffective at first. However, when the Portuguese were driven out of neighboring Angola, the guerrillas were offered aid and bases there, as well as training by Cuban soldiers. The guerrilla war for independence escalated sharply. South African government troops began raiding guerrilla bases in Angola, while SWAPO forces hit back in Namibia. In 1976, the UN condemned South Africa for "illegal occupation" of the territory, and the following year the UN General Assembly recognized SWAPO as the sole legitimate representative of Namibia. In 1978, the UN called an international conference to resolve the conflict; South Africa’s Prime Minister John Vorster (1915-83) agreed to free elections to be supervised by the UN to determine the fate of Namibia; he then reneged.
In 1979, Vorster, now president, again rejected a UN proposal to settle the dispute. Two years later a peace conference in Geneva also failed to win concessions from the South African government; control of Walvis Bay, Namibia’s only deep-water port, was a major point of contention. The United States supported South Africa’s refusal to withdraw from Namibia unless Cuban troops pulled out of Angola. A commission was set up to monitor a cease-fire agreement in 1984. A new, multiracial government was installed in Namibia by South Africa in 1985, but SWAPO’s armed struggle continued because of lack of progress toward implementing UN Resolution 435 on independence for Namibia and the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. In December 1988, a US-mediated peace agreement was signed by South Africa, Cuba, and Angola, setting a timetable for Namibian independence. At the same time Cuba and Angola agreed to a phased withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola. The United Nations General Assembly in 1966 voted to revoke South Africa’s mandate and to place the territory under direct UN administration. South Africa refused to recognize this UN resolution until 1985, when President Botha ceded administrative control to the territory’s interim government. South Africa allowed a UN peacekeeping force and an administrator to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 435 (1978), establishing the United Nations Transitional Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia. Finally, on December 22, 1988, South Africa signed an agreement linking its withdrawal from the disputed territory to an end to Soviet and Cuban involvement in the long civil war in neighboring Angola.
The Soviet Union engaged in a massive airlift of Cuban forces into Angola in 1975 to help the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola–MPLA) defeat rival groups attempting to achieve power after the Portuguese colonial administration ended. When the MPLA gained control of Angola’s central government in 1976, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola–UNITA) and the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola“–FNLA), two separate factions fighting for ascendancy, refused to recognize the new marxist-oriented government. In 1977, the MPLA captured the last major stronghold of the UNITA, whose leaders then fled to neighboring Zaire and Zambia, where they regrouped and revived their guerrilla war fare against the MPLA. White mercenaries, South Africans, and Portuguese frequently aided UNITA militarily, and covert American arms and assistance were reportedly received as well. In 1977, UNITA initiated a series of guerrilla raids on urban areas in Angola. A rebellion that UNITA supported was crushed.
The following year a government offensive against the guerrillas failed to dislodge them from the large areas they controlled in southern Angola. Being sympathetic to South Africa, UNITA let South African forces maintain bases in its territory for raids into Namibia, or South West Africa. In the early 1980s, UNITA guerrillas had extended their control to central and southeast Angola. They won the support of Great Britain, France, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and a number of African nations, while the MPLA was backed by the Soviet Union and Cuba.
The Angolan armed forces were equipped, trained, and supported almost exclusively by communist countries. The Soviet Union provided the bulk of FAPLA’s armaments and some advisers, whereas Cuba furnished most of the technical assistance, combat support, and training advisory services. Cubans also participated to a limited extent in ground and air combat. Other communist countries, particularly Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), Poland, and Yugoslavia, also furnished arms and related aid. In the 1980s, Angola also obtained limited amounts of matériel, military assistance, and training from countries such as Belgium, Brazil, Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), France, Spain, and Switzerland. Broadly speaking, there was an international division of labor in which the Soviet Union supplied large quantities of heavy weapons and equipment, other communist states furnished small arms, and the noncommunist suppliers provided mostly nonlethal items. Subsequently, Moscow and Havana remained the mainstays of the regime as far as its military needs were concerned. From 1982 to 1986, the Soviet Union delivered military equipment valued at US$4.9 billion, which represented more than 90 percent of Angola’s arms imports and one-fourth of all Soviet arms deliveries to Africa. Poland and Czechoslovakia transferred arms valued at US$10 million and US$5 million, respectively, over the same five-year period. During 1987 and 1988, Moscow more than compensated for FAPLA losses with accelerated shipments of heavy armaments. In addition to the tanks noted earlier, dozens of aircraft, heavy weapons, and air defense systems were delivered.
Beyond matériel deliveries, Moscow and its allies continued to provide extensive technical aid. Soviet military, security, and intelligence personnel and advisers helped establish the defense and security forces and served as advisers at all levels, from ministries in Luanda to major field commands. The Soviet Union’s civilian and military intelligence services, in coordination with their counterpart organizations from other communist countries, particularly East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Cuba, assisted in the creation and development of the Angolan state security and intelligence services.
Cuba was the main provider of combat troops, pilots, advisers, engineers, and technicians. As the insurgency war expanded, so did Cuba’s military presence. By 1982 there were 35,000 Cubans in Angola, of which about 27,000 were combat troops and the remainder advisers, instructors, and technicians. In 1985 their strength increased to 40,000, in 1986 to 45,000, and in 1988 to nearly 50,000. All told, more than 300,000 Cuban soldiers had served in Angola since 1975. Angola paid for the services of the Cubans at an estimated rate of US$300 million to US$600 million annually.
The Cuban forces, despite their numbers, generally did not engage directly in combat after 1976. Most of the Cubans were organized and deployed in motorized infantry, air defense, and artillery units. Their main missions were to deter and defend against attacks beyond the southern combat zone, protect strategic and economically critical sites and facilities, and provide combat support, such as rear-area security, logistic coordination, air defense, and security for major military installations and Luanda itself. At least 2,000 Cuban troops were stationed in oil-producing Cabinda Province. Cubans also trained Angolan pilots, and flew some combat missions against UNITA and the SADF. In addition, Cuban military personnel provided technical and operational support to SWAPO and the ANC within Angola. In mid-1988 Cuba substantially reinforced its military presence in Angola and deployed about one-fifth of its total forces toward the front lines in the south for the first time. This cohort was reported to include commando and SAM units, which raised concerns about direct clashes with South African forces. The move was apparently made to keep UNITA and the SADF at bay and to strengthen the negotiating position of Luanda and Havana in the United States brokered peace talks.
The continual war fare disrupted Angola’s economy and displaced one-sixth of its people, many of whom were forced to become refugees in Zaire, Zambia, and the Congo. The United States refused to recognize Angola’s government as long as Cuban troops were in the country. In late 1988 US-mediated talks led to a signed peace accord, after which South Africa removed its troops, but the fighting continued between the marxist MPLA government and the UNITA rebels. Another truce in June 1989, signed by Angola’s President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and UNITA leader Jonas Savimibi, also failed to end hostilities. Cuba removed its troops in May 1991. After a year of negotiations, led by the Soviet Union and the US, Santos and Savimbi signed a peace treaty in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 31, 1991, officially ending the 16-year civil war.
Cuba intervened in Ethiopia after the invading forces from Somalia threatened to destroy the country. Chaos spread throughout Ethiopia after Haile Selassie’s downfall, Somalia increased its support to several pro-Somali liberation groups in the Ogaden, the strongest of which was the WSLF (Western Somali Liberation Front). By late 1975, the WSLF had attacked many Ethiopian outposts in the Ogaden. In May 1977, a small group of some 50 Cuban military personnel were providing advice to the newly formed Marxist government of Mengistu Haile Mariam on the country’s defense organization and in the use of Soviet-supplied equipment. In July the Ethiopian leader was faced with separatist activities led by rebels seeking to force the secession of the eastern Ogaden desert to Somalia and requested that Cuba send at least 300 tank specialists.
In June 1977, Addis Ababa accused Mogadishu of committing SNA (Somali National Army) units to the fighting. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Somalia denied this charge and insisted that only "volunteers" had been given leave from the SNA to fight with the WSLF. By late 1977, the combined WSLF-SNA strength in the Ogaden probably approached 50,000, of which 15,000
appeared to be irregulars.
Before the Ogaden War, the most striking feature of the 23,000-man SNA had been its large armored force, which was equipped with about 250 T-34 and T-54/T-55 Soviet-built medium tanks and more than 300 armored personnel carriers. This equipment gave the SNA a tank force more than three times as large as Ethiopia’s. The prewar SAF (Somali Air Force) also was larger than Ethiopia’s air force. In 1976 the SAF had fifty-two combat aircraft, twenty-four of which were Soviet-built supersonic MiG21s . Facing them was an Ethiopian Air Force (EAF) of thirty-five to forty aircraft. Ethiopia also was in the process of acquiring several United States-built Northrop F-5 fighters from Iran. At the outbreak of fighting, Ethiopia had approximately sixteen F5A/Es.
After the Somali government committed the SNA to the Ogaden, the conflict ceased to be a guerrilla action and assumed the form of a conventional war in which armor, mechanized infantry, and air power played decisive roles. The SNA quickly adapted its organization to battlefield realities. The centralized Somali logistics system controlled supplies at battalion level (600- to 1,000-man units) from Mogadishu, an unwieldy arrangement given Somalia’s limited transportation and communications network. To facilitate operations, the logistics center and headquarters for forces fighting in the northern Ogaden moved to Hargeysa, the SNA’s northern sector headquarters. Before the war, all Somali ground forces had been organized into battalions. After the conflict started, however, the standard infantry and mechanized infantry unit became the brigade, composed of two to four battalions and having a total strength of 1,200 to 2,000 personnel.
During the summer of 1977, the SNA-WSLF force achieved several victories but also endured some significant defeats. In July 1977, it captured Gode, on the Shabeelle River about 550 kilometers inside Ethiopia, and won control of 60 percent of the Ogaden. By mid-September 1977, Ethiopia conceded that 90 percent of the Ogaden was in Somali hands. The SNA suffered two setbacks in August when it tried to capture Dire Dawa and Jijiga. The Ethiopian army inflicted heavy losses on the SNA at Dire Dawa after a Somali attack by one tank battalion and a mechanized infantry brigade supported by artillery units. At Jijiga the Somalis lost more than half of their attacking force of three tank battalions, each of which included more than thirty tanks.
Somalia’s greatest victory occurred in mid-September 1977 in the second attempt to take Jijiga, when three tank battalions overwhelmed the Ethiopian garrison. After inflicting some heavy losses on Somali armor, Ethiopian troops mutinied and withdrew from the town, leaving its defense to the militia, which was incapable of slowing the Somali advance. The Ethiopians retreated beyond the strategic Marda Pass, the strongest defensive position between Jijiga and Harer, leaving the SNA in a commanding position within the region. Despite this success, several factors prevented a Somali victory. Somali tank losses had been heavy in the battles around Dire Dawa and Jijiga. Moreover, because the EAF had established air superiority over the SAF, it could harass overextended Somali supply lines with impunity. The onset of the rainy season hampered such air attacks; however, the bad weather also bogged down Somali reinforcements on the dirt roads.
The Soviet Union’s decision to abandon Somalia in favor of Ethiopia eventually turned the tide of battle in the Ogaden. From October 1977 through January 1978, about 20,000 WSLF guerrillas and SNA forces pressed attacks on Harer, where nearly 50,000 Ethiopians had regrouped, backed by Soviet-supplied armor and artillery and gradually reinforced by 11,000 Cuban’s and 1,500 Soviet advisers. Although it fought its way into Harer in November 1977, the SNA lacked the supplies and manpower to capture the city. Subsequently, the Somalis regrouped outside Harer and awaited an Ethiopian counterattack.
As expected, in early February 1978 Ethiopian and Cuban forces launched a two-stage counterattack toward Jijiga. Unexpectedly, however, a column of Cubans and Ethiopians moving north and east crossed the highlands between Jijiga and the Somali border, bypassing Somali troops dug in around the Marda Pass. Thus, the attacking force was able to assault the Somalis from two sides and recapture Jijiga after two days of fighting in which 3,000 Somali troops lost their lives. Within a week, Ethiopia had retaken all of the Ogaden’s major towns. On March 9, 1978, Siad Barre recalled the SNA from Ethiopia. After the SNA withdrawal, the WSLF reverted to guerrilla tactics. By May 1980, the rebels had established control over a significant portion of the Ogaden. Eventually, Ethiopia defeated the WSLF and the few small SNA units that remained in the region after the Somali pullout. In late 1981, however, reports indicated that the WSLF continued to conduct occasional hit-and- run attacks against Ethiopian targets.
A large Cuban contingent, believed to number about 12,000, remained in Ethiopia after the Ogaden War. However, by mid 1984 Havana had reduced its troop strength in Ethiopia to approximately 3,000. In 1988 a Cuban brigade, equipped with tanks and APCs, was stationed in Dire Dawa to guard the road and railroad between Ethiopia and Djibouti, following attacks by Somali-supported rebels. A mobile battalion of various military advisers and an unknown number of Cuban instructors who were on the Harer Military Academy faculty also remained in Ethiopia. After Ethiopia and Somalia signed an April 1988 joint communiqué intended to reduce tensions, Cuba decided to end its military presence in Ethiopia. The last Cuban troops left on September 17, 1989,
thus terminating twelve years of military cooperation
By 1980 Cuban activities had expanded into the Middle East (Southern Yemen). In both regions the Cuban presence was generally seen by the West as the spearhead of a growing Soviet thrust. In return, the Cuban economy continued to be supplemented by some $3 million in daily Soviet aid. Despite its relationship with the USSR, Cuba in 1979 played host to a meeting of the so-called nonaligned nations, at which Castro was chosen the group’s leader for the following three years.
In 1980, when Castro temporarily lifted exit restrictions, some 125,000 refugees fled to the United States before the outflow was again halted. The U.S. government accused Cuba of aiding leftist rebels in El Salvador; another sore point in U.S.-Cuban relations was the aid given by Cuban advisers to the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Several hundred Cuban construction workers and military personnel were forced to leave Grenada as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of that island in October 1983.
The invasion of Grenada in late 1983 can be seen as a small part of the rivalry between the U.S. and Cuba during the Reagan years. A bloody coup in Grenada, along with a perceived threat to American students on the island provided the U.S. with an excellent excuse to eliminate a Marxist regime allied to Fidel Castro’s Cuba. The U.S. invasion of Grenada and the toppling of it’s Marxist government can be seen as part of a greater regional conflict. This conflict involved the U.S. and it’s Central American and Caribbean allies on one side and Fidel Castro ‘s Cuba, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and various Marxist guerrilla armies on the other. President Reagan and his administration were concerned that the Marxist government of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was allowing Cuba to gain undue influence in Grenada, specifically by constructing a military-grade airport with Cuban military engineers. On October 13, 1983, the Grenadian Army, controlled by former Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, seized power in a bloody coup. The severity of the violence, coupled with Coard’s hard-line Marxism, caused deep concern among neighboring Caribbean nations, as well as in Washington, D.C. Also, the presence of nearly 1,000 American medical students in Grenada caused added concern.
In the early morning of October 25, 1983, the United States invaded the island of Grenada. The initial assault consisted of some 1,200 troops, and they were met by stiff resistance from the Grenadian army and Cuban military units on the island. Heavy fighting continued for several days, but as the invasion force grew to more than 7,000, the defenders either surrendered or fled into the mountains. Scattered fighting continued as U.S. troops hunted down stragglers, but for the most part, the island quickly fell under American control. By mid-December, U.S. combat forces went home and a pro-American government took power.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Havana in April 1989, when the USSR and Cuba signed a 25-year friendship treaty, but Castro explicitly rejected the applicability of Soviet-style political and economic reforms to his country. In July four army officers were executed and ten others sentenced to prison for smuggling and drug trafficking, in the worst scandal since Castro came to power.
With the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s, Soviet-bloc aid and trade subsidies to Cuba were ended, and Soviet military forces were gradually withdrawn. After the United States tightened its sanctions against trade with Cuba, the UN General Assembly in November 1992 approved a resolution calling for an end to the U.S. embargo. By 1993 all of the Soviet troops sent to Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis had been withdrawn. Cuba’s sugarcane production dropped to a 30-year low in 1993 and worsened in 1994, precipitating an economic emergency. As the effects of this poor yield filtered down through the population, greater numbers of Cubans attempted to flee the country for economic reasons. One such group hijacked a ferry and and attempted to escape, only to be challenged and sunk by the Cuban Coast Guard. The sinking sparked violent antigovernment demonstrations, to which Castro responded by removing exit restrictions from those who wished to leave for the United States. Already facing an influx of refugees from Haiti, the United States countered by ending automatic asylum to fleeing Cubans because the United States considered that they were fleeing economic rather than political conditions. More than 30,000 people were picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and taken to the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base or to refugee camps in Panama. The crisis came to an end when the United States agreed to issue 20,000 entry visas each year to Cubans wishing to enter the country.
In February 1996 Cuban authorities arrested or detained at least 150 dissidents, marking the most widespread crackdown on opposition groups in the country since the early 1960s. Many were members of the Concilio Cubano, a fledgling coalition of more than 100 organizations dedicated to political reform.
Later that month, Cuban jet fighters shot down two civilian planes that Cuba claimed had violated Cuban airspace. The planes belonged to Brothers to the Rescue, a U.S.-based group headed by Cuban exiles dedicated to helping Cuban refugees. The group used small planes to spot refugees fleeing the island nation and then reported their positions to the U.S. Coast Guard. The United States condemned the shootings as a flagrant violation of international law; the United Nations also criticized the downing of the planes. Cuba said that planes from the same group had previously flown into Cuban airspace and
dropped antigovernment leaflets, but Cuba’s repeated diplomatic complaints to the United States about the incidents had gone unheeded. Castro said he did not directly order the shootings, but acknowledged that in the weeks prior to the incident he had given the Cuban Air Force the authorization to shoot down civilian planes violating Cuba’s airspace.
As a result of this incident, U.S. President Bill Clinton abandoned his previous resistance to stricter sanctions against Cuba and in March 1996 signed into law the Helms-Burton Act. The legislation aimed to tighten the U.S. embargo by making it more difficult for foreign investors and businesses to operate in Cuba. It made permanent the economic embargo, which
previously had to be renewed each year, and threatened foreign companies with lawsuits if they were deemed to be "deriving benefit" from property worth more than $50,000 that had been confiscated from U.S. citizens during the Cuban revolution. Canada, Mexico, and the European Union complained about the U.S. law, claiming that the United States was trying to export its laws and principles to other countries.
Later that month, the Central Committee of Cuba’s Communist Party held a rare full session and endorsed a harder stance against dissidents, as well as against Cuban businesses that had been allowed to engage in free-market joint ventures with foreign companies. The committee had met only five times since Communists took over the Cuban government in 1959. Cuban officials said that dissidents, self-employed workers, and Cuban intellectuals were being manipulated by Cuba’s foreign enemies to undermine the authority of the Communist Party. Castro vowed to step up the government’s efforts to silence opposition groups and enforce compliance with the party’s economic and ideological beliefs.
On March 16, 2003 Castro threatens to shut down U.S. Interests Section in Havana, calling it a breeding ground for dissidents.Castro launches biggest political crackdown in decades, jailing 75 dissidents for terms of up to 28 years for collaborating with Washington to undermine his one-party state. Cuba executes three men who hijacked a commuter ferry in a failed bid to reach Florida on April 11, 2003. U.S.A. expels 14 Cuban diplomats May 13, 2003.