Bay of Pigs, Cuba Alfredo Duran stared out at the deep blue water off the voluptuous Cuban coastline Saturday and recalled the painful losses his exile invasion force suffered on this Cold War battlefield.
"That's where the supply boats were, the ones that the Cubans sank," Duran said, pointing out at the sea where a team of Cuban exiles armed and trained by the CIA suffered a disastrous defeat 40 years ago at an invasion known as the Bay of Pigs.
At the close of a conference studying the April 1961 invasion, Duran joined ex-CIA operatives, former assistants to President Kennedy, and the retired Cuban military commanders who fought against them in a visit to the idyllic beach where the failed invasion tried to come ashore.
"I would do it again, considering the times," said Duran, a compact man with white hair and glasses. "The times have changed, and one has to change with the times."
Cuba scholar Wayne Smith, an American diplomat who left Havana when relations between the two countries were severed months before the invasion, had a different point of view.
"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, referring to the 150 conference participants.
The trip to Playa Giron, as the beach on the island's south-central coast is known, came on the last day of a three-day conference that brought together protagonists of the battle between the exiles and the Cuban militia.
The U.S. National Security 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 composed 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.
There were nearly 60 people in the American delegation to the conference, including five members of the invasion force as well as Kennedy special assistants Arthur Schlesinger and Richard Goodwin, who both thought the invasion was ill-advised.