Associated Press
April 19, 2001

Cuba Marks Bay of Pigs Victory


              PLAYA GIRON, Cuba (AP) -- On the coastline where his forces claimed victory
              over a CIA-trained exile army 40 years ago, President Fidel Castro on Thursday
              saluted the veterans and the victims of Cuba's Cold War triumph in the 1961 Bay of
              Pigs invasion.

              ``Today is a day of glory that nothing and no one can erase from history,'' Castro said,
              looking out at thousands of Bay of Pigs veterans from a stage decorated with heavy
              artillery and surrounded by palm trees. He spoke of ``remembering the fallen,
              remembering the humble sons of the nation who pushed forward into the crushing
              blow of the pride and arrogance of the empire.''

              Before Castro rose to address the crowd of men, many with military medals pinned to
              the commemorative T-shirts distributed at the event, veteran Ernesto Robaina
              Figueroa told his former comrades-in-arms that ``there is no powerful enemy for a
              people who know what they are fighting for.''

              The men, now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, cheered and waved small paper Cuban flags
              in response.

              Dismissing a U.N. condemnation Wednesday of communist Cuba for its human rights
              record, Robaina declared: ``Liars! What human rights are they talking about...our
              country has been blockaded for more than 40 years.''

              The vast majority of the more than 10,000 participants who organizers said gathered
              on Cuba's south-central coast for the ceremony were older men.

              Trained by the CIA in Guatemala at the height of the Cold War, an invasion force
              known as 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.

              Victory for Cuba came here on Playa Giron -- or Giron Beach -- a strip of gorgeous,
              palm-dotted coastline on the Bahia de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs.

              While exiles still blame their loss on President Kennedy's refusal to provide additional
              air support, Cuban leaders have always maintained that they won the battle simply
              because they fought better.

              Exiles in Miami remembered the battle on Tuesday, the day of the beach landing at
              Playa Larga -- Long Beach -- at the most inner part of the Bay of Pigs, about 12
              miles north of here. The fighting later moved south, to Playa Giron, where Cuba
              claimed victory.

              ``The Mercenaries Got This Far,'' reads a billboard just outside Playa Larga, showing
              a huge blowup of an old black and white photograph of exile soldiers taken prisoner
              after the battle.

              ``Here Was Unleashed a Decisive Combat for Victory,'' another nearby billboard

              Among the guests at Thursday's ceremony were relatives of former castaway Elian
              Gonzalez, including the boy's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who waged a seven-month
              battle to return his son to Cuba.

              But the 7-year-old boy, who was seen Wednesday afternoon at the entrance of this
              beach's only hotel, was not at the event. Also absent were his stepmother and younger
              half brother.

              Cuba's Communist leadership considers Elian's return to Cuba last June one of its
              major recent victories over its ``imperialist'' enemies.