Sunday marks the 55th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs effort to remove Fidel Castro and the communist regime from power in Cuba. On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took to the Senate floor to honor the men who tried to overthrow Castro. His remarks are as follows:
Coming up on the 17th will mark the anniversary of a significant event in history. It’s an event that many in our government over the years have been eager to forget. And is often cited as a blemish on our history, but I beg to differ in some ways. The result wasn’t what we wanted, but I think we have a lot to be proud of and I think it has become increasingly important to remember.
Fifty-five years ago this Sunday – on the 17th of April in 1961 – there were 1,500 brave volunteers who embarked upon a mission to liberate Cuba from Fidel Castro’s oppressive grip. This force was made up primarily of Cuban exiles, but they were a diverse group from all backgrounds within Cuban society.
They knew they would be badly outnumbered and that they face extraordinary odds, and yet these men stormed the beaches of Playa Giron at the Bay of Pigs. They did it for what at the time was their country, Cuba. They did it for their families. They did it for freedom itself.
Over the next four days, nearly 100 members of the Brigada de Asalto 2506, Brigade 2506, they lost their lives, nearly 100 members, included in that number, by the way, were four American pilots and five others who were executed. The majority were captured and imprisoned for many months and years in inhumane conditions.
Though the invasion failed, the Bay of Pigs invasion, it was a triumph of courage for the brave Cuban exiles at the mission’s helm, and it serves today as a reminder of an era when the United States government actually embraced America's role as “watchman on the walls of freedom.”
Since taking power those many years ago, the anti-American Castro regime has never relented in its attempts to undermine our security and suppress its own people. More than one million Cubans have voted with their feet, fleeing the island in search of political freedom or better economic conditions, we just discussed that a moment ago, and often coming here to the United States.
Many of these refugees are my neighbors, and they’re my friends, and they’re my constituents. My own parents left Cuba several years before Castro took over, but their lives were nonetheless marred by his rule as well. Their relationships with family and friends, and access to their homeland, were abruptly severed.
For the nearly 1,500 Cuban exiles that made up Assault Brigade 2506, Fidel Castro was not the leader of their country, he was what he’s always been, a thief and an imposter. They knew liberty was a God-given right, and they needed to do all in their power to reclaim it.
Their story says as much about their own resilience as it does about America. The very building I stand in, and the proud body I am a member of, would not exist were it not for men like them over 150 years before.
America’s Declaration of Independence says of mankind’s inalienable rights that “W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”
Those who undertook the Bay of Pigs invasion fought for their country, not against it. Their cause was a humanitarian cause. A noble cause. In many ways, an American cause.
Many of those who were captured were eventually released and exiled to the United States. They came here with nothing – not a penny, and in many cases no English skills. They went to work and embraced America’s blessings, but they never forgot their homeland.
Some made it their life’s work to promote the cause of a free Cuba. Others went to work on different endeavor, to provide for their families, but dedicated countless hours as faithful volunteers of the cause. Many of them, many of these former members of the Brigade 2506, would take up arms for the United States, serving in our armed forces with the same bravery and distinction they showed at the Bay of Pigs. In doing so, they served as teachers to an entire community. Today in Miami, for example, a Brigade 2506 monument and museum now exist as much to commemorate these heroes as to educate others.
Far from being forgotten, the example of these brave men has inspired others to carry on their work. Their legacy lives, and it lives on among those of us who follow in their footsteps by making their cause of a free Cuba our cause.
Today the spirit of those who paid the ultimate price is alive and well in the Brigade's Veterans Association, which continues to stand firmly against the Castro brothers’ dictatorship.
Their spirit is also alive inside of Cuba, represented by all those who stand up to the repressive regime and its beatings, detentions and suppressions of speech. A strong dissident movement within the island refuses to be silenced, demanding change and the right of every human being to be free.
Sadly, this administration has betrayed that spirit of dissension by treating the Castro government as if it were democratically elected. The President’s actions have only motivated the dictatorship to increase in its very nature.
But as long as the spirit of the brigade lives on, the dream of a free Cuba will never die.
Following the Bay of Pigs invasion, in December of 1962, President Kennedy delivered a speech in Miami honoring those who fought, and accepting an honor from them in return: the accepted the flag of their brigade.
President Kennedy said, “I can assure you that this flag will be returned to this brigade in a free Havana.” That assurance was not made by a man, but by a nation. It came with no expiration date.
I believe we as Americans owe it to the fearless men who fought at the Bay of Pigs to ensure that their flag, which last touched the shores of Cuba 55 years ago this week, is one day returned to a free Havana, and that everything that flag represents – freedom, sacrifice, the dreams of the Cuban people – remains the cause of the United States.
To the veterans of Assault Brigade 2506, thank you for your service and God bless you.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010.