CubaBrief: Brigade 2506, the Bay of Pigs at sixty three and some historical context. Olga Morgan Goodwin who defied Castro, married ‘Comandante Yankee,’ dies at 87

“It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.” – Norman Schwarzkopf 

Bay of Pigs Monument. Photo by Wally Gobetz

Sixty three years ago Brigade 2506 members invaded Cuba seeking to end the communist dictatorship then being consolidated by Fidel Castro. Before the world knew what was going on in Cuba, these Cubans tried to prevent these 65 years and counting of horror under the communist dictatorship of the Castro brothers. Outnumbered and outgunned they fought between April 17-19, 1961 and one hundred and four Brigade 2506 members died fighting to liberate Cuba, and eight were executed by firing squad. Most Brigade members were captured and spent 22 months in prison before a ransom was paid for their release.

Eliecer Jiménez-Almeida, a filmmaker and Ph.D. student in the Department of Modern Languages at the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs who received a master’s degree in Spanish Journalism from FIU in 2022, made a documentary about the Bay of Pigs invasion, ”Veritas,” that had its TV premiere on PBS April 15th and will soon be streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and other major services. 

Cuba’s last legitimately elected president, Carlos Prio Socarras, was voted in by Cubans in free and fair elections on July 1, 1948 and assumed office on October 10, 1948. He was a democrat, who respected civil liberties, and presided over years of prosperity and freedom for Cubans. President Prio Socarras belonged to the Autentico Party and succeeded Ramon Grau San Martin, another member of the same political party in the Cuban presidency. On his watch Cuban diplomats played an important role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President Carlos Prío Socarras and his wife Mary Tarrero de Prío went into exile in Miami, but his struggle for a democratic Cuba did not end there. He would be arrested on more than one occasion accused of smuggling arms to rebels in Cuba seeking to overthrow Fulgencio Batista.

Cuba’s last constitutional president announced his plan to return to the island as early as 1955 and did so during a brief “amnesty” in 1956 only to be expelled at gunpoint a short time later. Prío Socarras would return again in January 1959 when Fulgencio Batista fled power. The Castro brothers and their guerillas promised to restore democracy obtaining the support of the United States. Behind the scenes, despite their public claims, the revolutionaries began immediately consolidating power and marginalizing or disappearing anti-communists from their ranks such as Huber Matos. Publicly, beginning in January 1959 they began broadcasting the public execution of regime opponents by firing squads.

In March 1960 radio stations were seized by the revolutionary government in Cuba, this was followed by the taking of newspapers in May 1960. In July 1960 all U.S. businesses and commercial property in Cuba were nationalized at the direction of the Cuban government. In September 1960 the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) were established throughout Cuba and the close surveillance of all Cubans began. In October 1960 Cuban-owned large and middle sized private enterprises nationalized and all rental properties seized, along with commercial bank accounts. What remained were small and micro enterprises.

President Carlos Prío Socarras departed for exile again in December 1960 as the Castro government turned into a communist military dictatorship. Cuba in the span of two years had transitioned from an authoritarian regime to a totalitarian communist one.

Many of the members of Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement who had believed his promises of restoring democracy became disillusioned as free elections did not materialize, and a communist dictatorship imposed.. Two of them were Olga Morgan Goodwin and her husband William Alexander Morgan, the “Yankee Comandante.”

Williiam Morgan and Olga María Rodríguez Farinas in the mountains of Cuba. Wikimedia Commons

Olga Morgan Goodwin passed away on April 16, 2024 from a stroke. She was 87 years old. She spent over ten years in a Cuban prison for her political beliefs beginning in March 1961, and was freed due to the intercession of a visiting United Nations delegation in 1972. Over a decade of beatings, three month long stays in solitary confinement, and hunger strikes to protest the inhuman treatment.

A little over a month before the Bay of Pigs on March 11, 1961 William Alexander Morgan was executed by firing squad at La Cabaña. He had been loyal to the Revolution, and believed that Fidel Castro was not a communist, and that when the communist influence was exposed that they would be crushed, and democracy finally restored in Cuba.

It was in this context that Cuban exiles joined Brigade 2506 to overthrow the communist dictatorship in Cuba. They risked life and limb to liberate their homeland, and over a hundred died in the venture, and hundreds more suffered imprisonment as prisoners of war between April 1961 and December 1962

Pedro Roig, a member of the Brigade 2506, in 2012 at the Institute of Cuban – Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami gave a first hand presentation of what happened, and lessons learned.

Following the Bay of Pigs the Kennedy brothers initiated Operation Mongoose in November 1961. President Kennedy’s brother and Attorney General of the United States, Robert Kennedy, headed up the sustained effort to topple the Castro regime and this included the assassination of Fidel Castro. The Kennedy Administration remained committed to regime change in Cuba by whatever means necessary short of a U.S. military intervention that would arouse a response from the Soviets.

On December 24, 1962, captured prisoners of war of the Brigade 2506 were released from Castro’s prison and flew to Miami. Five days later on December 29, 1962, President John Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy met with the Bay of Pigs veterans, and over 40,000 Cuban exiles at the Orange Bowl. On that day the returning soldiers gave President Kennedy the flag of the Brigade and the President pledged that the Brigade flag was to “fly again in a free Havana.” Less than a year later on November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas by pro-Castro activist Lee Harvey Oswald.

The Castro regime would go on to complete the imposition of communist central planning, the rationing of food became official on March 12, 1962. According to Reuters, “in 1963 the government made it illegal for Cubans to slaughter their cows or sell beef and byproducts without state permission after Hurricane Flora killed 20% of the country’s herd.” In 1968, Fidel Castro carried out what he called a “Revolutionary Offensive” that wiped out the remaining private sector.

Sixty three years after the Bay of Pigs, and the courageous sacrifice of the Brigade 2506 members, the haunting question remains: “How much better would Cuba and the wider region be today if Castro had been overthrown in 1961?”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 17th, 2024

Fiery Cuban revolutionary leader who defied Fidel Castro dies at 87

Olga Morgan Goodwin fought alongside her famous American husband, William Morgan, in the Cuban Revolution 

By Michael D. Sallah

Olga Morgan Goodwin, a once fiery Cuban revolutionary who was imprisoned for attempting to overthrow Fidel Castro and later fled to the United States where she became a revered figure in the exile community and an outspoken critic of the communist regime, died at her home in Florida on Tuesday after suffering a stroke. She was 87.

One of the first female leaders of the revolution in her country in the 1950s, Ms. Goodwin’s exploits along with those of her famous American husband, William Alexander Morgan, who led his own rebel force, were chronicled in books, articles and a PBS feature documentary, American Comandante.

After helping Castro rise to power, her husband was executed by a firing squad in 1961 when he broke with the regime over its ties to communism and she was arrested and sent to prison. There, she led hunger strikes and protests over the poor treatment of inmates.

“She was a generational leader,” said Manny Garcia, former editor of El Nuevo Herald and confidante of the former revolutionary. “She was part of the women’s resistance movement in Cuba who lost their freedom in their fight for a [country] free from communism.”

After her prison release, she left her native country in 1980 on a rickety boat during the Mariel boatlift and settled in Morgan’s hometown of Toledo, Ohio, where she waged a relentless campaign to bring his body back from Cuba for reburial.

Her efforts prompted a congressional trip to her native country by U.S. House members Marcy Kaptur and Charlie Rangel, who met with Castro in 2002 in an all-night session to convince the leader to release the remains.

The Cuban president agreed to return the American’s body to the U.S., but to this day, it is still interred in a Havana cemetery.

Despite the setback, Ms. Goodwin continued to wage a letter-writing campaign to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as well as Pope Francis, pleading for them to pressure the Cuban government to allow her husband’s body to be returned.

[ Full Article ]

FIU News, April 8, 2024

Doctoral student’s documentary on Bay of Pigs to air on PBS and streaming services

The work of Eliecer Jiménez-Almeida has received critical acclaim, and now his film on the failed 1961 CIA-sponsored military operation to overthrow Fidel Castro will available to a national audience.

Arts & Culture

By Todd Ellenberg

Although it took place more than 60 years ago, Eliecer Jiménez-Almeida believes the Bay of Pigs invasion – the failed 1961 CIA-sponsored military operation to overthrow the Fidel Castro government in Cuba – is still highly relevant.

A filmmaker and Ph.D. student in the Department of Modern Languages at the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs who received a master’s degree in Spanish Journalism from FIU in 2022, Jiménez-Almeida made a documentary about the event, ”Veritas,” that will have its TV premiere on PBS April 15 and later stream on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and other major streaming services. The film was screened at the Miami Film Festival in 2022, where it received the Documentary Achievement Award. He also serves as co-director of the Cuban Diaspora Film Archive, a research, teaching and learning project located within the Department of Modern Languages.

The story of the invasion is told through the memories of the members of Brigade 2506, the group of Cuban exiles that participated in the mission and felt abandoned by the U.S. government. Decades later they recount their personal tales of preparing for the investigation, facing defeat on the Cuban beaches, their prison ordeals, and eventual return to the U.S.

“This momentous episode of the Cold War era illuminates the intricate interplay of politics and diplomacy, providing valuable insights into the complexities that have shaped the geopolitical landscape of the region,” Jiménez-Almeida said.

[ Full article ]