What word comes to mind when you hear the term "Bay of Pigs?"
Kennedy? CIA? Cuba? Castro? Useppa?
Some background. During the 1950s, Fulgenico Batista was dictator of Cuba and friendly to the United States government. In 1959 forces loyal to Fidel Castro seized control of this island nation. Batista avoided capture and fled to Portugal.
After taking over the government, Castro proceeded to nationalize most of American company's assets in Cuba such as the banks, oil refineries and sugar mills.
The following year President Eisenhower instructed the CIA to recruit, outfit and lead a militia of Cuban exiles in an invasion of Cuba to overthrow the government of Castro. An exile is someone separated from his or her country by force of circumstances. President Kennedy continued Eisenhower's policy regarding Cuba after he was sworn in to office in 1961.
A CIA officer by the name of Carl Jenkins was put in charge of the invasion and travelled to Miami to assemble a force for the military operation. Jenkins enlisted a group of former Cuban officers already planning a campaign against the Castro government.
One of these officers was a one-time Castro revolutionary by the name of Manuel Artime, who the CIA considered crucial to their operation. Artime had at first supported Castro, but in 1959 he became a leading anti-communist in Cuba. He had the following of a very large number of anti-Castro students that had recently arrived in Miami after exiling from Cuba. These students would join Jenkins' operation.
In the spring of 1960, a Cuban businessman by the name of Freddie Goudie leased Useppa Island. The island was owned at the time by the Barron Collier family and had been forsaken since his death in 1939. The lease by Goudie was a false front for the CIA to allow it to establish a secret training facility there. The island was heavily guarded and no one was permitted to land their boat there.
The CIA did inform the Lee County Sheriff's Department of its operation on the island.
In June of 1960, Artime and the other ex-Cuban officers were transported to Useppa. Once they arrived the CIA subjected them to in-depth evaluations in addition to military training. All recruits were given a physical examination and tested for intelligence, psychological disorders and general aptitude. They were each administered a lie detector test. Throughout the summer other enlistees arrived in small groups and were subjected to these same examinations, testing and training. Other recruits were examined, tested and trained in Panama and Guatemala.
By the spring of 1961, the CIA was ready to carry out its mission of overthrowing the Castro regime. On April 17, CIA personnel led approximately 1,400 trained exiles by boat and landed on the southern coast of Cuba in an area named Bahia de Conchinos (Spanish for Bay of Pigs).
The CIA personnel and exiles were met by an overwhelming Cuban military resistance exceeding 20,000 troops. After three days of intense fighting 1,179 invaders were captured. The remaining had been killed in battle. The prisoners were ultimately exchanged for $53 million in food and medicine that had been raised from individuals and corporations in the US.
Useppa Island truly has a notable history.
For more history of Pine Island, visit the Museum of the Islands, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, 1-4 p.m.
The museum is conveniently located next to the Pine Island Library at 5728 Sesame Drive off Stringfellow Road. Call 239-283-1525.
Tim Knox is museum historian at the Museum of the Islands.