Roberto Pichardo was a young Cuban refugee who wanted to see his country free again and was willing to risk his life to end communist oppression. Despite the betrayal he and others suffered, he has no regrets.
Exiled From Cuba, He Was Recruited by the CIA To Invade the Bay of Pigs
Roberto Pichardo was still convinced that the Central Intelligence Agency wouldn’t leave him behind, but after three days at the Playa Girón airfield, dodging strafing runs from Cuban military aircraft and waiting in vain for American reinforcements to arrive, he was beginning to worry they might.
Pichardo belonged to Brigade 2506, an exclusive group of Cuban exiles armed and trained by the CIA. In April 1961, under authorization by President John F. Kennedy, Brigade 2506 took part in the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion. Their mission, financed and coordinated by Washington, was to depose dictator Fidel Castro, install a new, Western-friendly regime in Havana, and, ultimately, deal a crushing blow to America’s Cold War adversaries — namely, the Soviet Union, with which Castro was closely aligned. While most historical observers are familiar with the strategic failures that doomed the operation, far less attention has been paid to how the invasion was experienced by the Cuban exiles who carried it out. Pichardo, now 86, and one of the last surviving members of Brigade 2506, hopes his story will shed light on the harrowing events that unfolded on the southwestern coast of Cuba 61 years ago and help preserve the legacy of those who sacrificed everything in the name of freedom.
Castro assumed power over Cuba in 1959 after leading a successful guerrilla campaign that removed the American-backed military dictator Fulgencio Batista from office. Members of the toppled government were persecuted under the new regime, and droves of them were tried and executed by revolutionary courts. Castro’s regime also intimidated and harassed ordinary citizens accused of criticizing him or suspected of having ties to enemy governments. Thousands of Cubans were imprisoned, beaten, and killed in the purge.
Pichardo was among those who ended up on the regime’s blacklist in the aftermath of the revolution. In August 1960, he was a 24-year-old radio technician servicing military aircraft at the Havana airport. One evening, two officers from Castro’s secret police approached him while he was on the job and began asking questions. The officers accused Pichardo of conspiring with some of his co-workers to support the anti-Castro movement. Despite Pichardo’s insistence that he “wasn’t involved in anything,” the officers threatened to come back to the airport and shoot Pichardo if Cuba was ever invaded.
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