The Associated Press
March 24, 2001

Old Cold War Foes Go to Bay of Pigs


              BAY OF PIGS, Cuba (AP) -- Alfredo Duran stared out at the deep blue water off
              the voluptuous Cuban coastline Saturday and recalled the disastrous defeat his exile
              invasion force suffered 40 years ago on this Cold War battlefield.

              ``That's where the supply boats were, the ones that the Cubans sank,'' Duran said,
              pointing at the sea. He stood on the shore where a team of Cuban exiles armed and
              trained by the CIA landed in an invasion known as the Bay of Pigs.

              ``It is very emotional to be on this beach, where a lot of my friends died, where a lot
              of people died on the other side,'' Duran said.

              At the close of a three-day conference studying the April 1961 invasion, Duran
              joined other exiles, ex-CIA operatives, former assistants to President Kennedy and
              retired Cuban military commanders in a visit to the place where it all happened.

              At the time, the invasion was the right thing to do, said Duran. ``But the times have
              changed, and one has to change with the times,'' he said.

              That view was shared by Cuban scholar Wayne Smith, an U.S. diplomat who left
              Havana when relations between the countries were severed months before the

              ``It's time to begin a process of healing and reconciliation. Our government doesn't
              seem to realize that, but the people here do,'' Smith said of the 150 conference
              participants -- protagonists on both sides of a battle that shaped the U.S.-Cuba
              relationship for decades.

              Closing their meeting, the former Cold War adversaries said in a brief statement that
              they hoped that their encounter would ``serve as a model to continue the expansion
              of a dialogue about this and other important themes in the prolonged conflict
              between the United States and Cuba.''

              Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Fernandez, who led the defending forces on the
              beach, said the meeting turned out better than expected.

              ``We have had a very useful dialogue here, with mutual respect,'' he said.

              The trip to the neighboring beaches of Playa Larga and Playa Giron on the island's
              south-central coast came on the last day of the conference.

              Cuban President Fidel Castro attended the sessions in Havana on Thursday and
              Friday behind closed doors, poring over newly declassified documents on the event.
              But he did not attend the Saturday visit to the battle site, a two-hour drive southeast
              of the capital.

              Castro joined them in front of a map on Friday as they exchanged recollections
              about the three-day invasion, Thomas Blanton of the National Security Archive told
              reporters late Friday. The archive, based at George Washington University, helped
              organize the event with the University of Havana.

              Dedicated to declassifying secret U.S. documents, the archive provided participants
              with a wealth of new information about the invasion, which has shaped has
              U.S.-Cuba relations for the four decades since.

              Trained by the CIA in Guatemala, the 2506 Brigade was comprised of about 1,500
              exiles determined to overthrow Castro's government, which had seized power 28
              months before.

              The three-day invasion failed. Without U.S. air support and running short of
              ammunition, more than 1,000 invaders were captured. Another 100 invaders and
              151 defenders died.

              The Cuban government also released a number of formerly secret papers, including
              one in which Fernandez, who led the defending forces on the beach as a young
              military captain, listed what he considered to be his numerous errors.

              At one point, an amused Castro read aloud from a U.S. document assessing his
              personality after his U.S. visit as Cuba's new prime minister in early 1959,
              participants said. The group also studied the first known CIA document calling for
              Castro's assassination.

              There were nearly 60 people in the American delegation to the conference, including
              five members of the invasion force and Kennedy aides Arthur Schlesinger and
              Richard Goodwin, who both thought the invasion was ill-advised.