Tuesday, December 23, 2014



Havana, Cuba (JFK+50) Fifty-two years ago today, December 23, 1962,  just two days before Christmas Day, Premier Fidel Castro released prisoners captured during the ill-fated invasion at the Bay of Pigs in mid-April 1961.

According to Jim Rasenberger, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy met on June 20, 1962 with members of the Cuban Families Committee in New York City where he discussed the problem of raising money to pay Castro's ransom.

RFK then met with James B. Donovan*, a New York attorney who had negotiated the release of captured U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers from the USSR, on July 2nd.  Donovan was dispatched to Cuba where he met with Castro for four hours on August 31, 1962.

Donovan explained to Castro that $62 million in cash was not a possibility, but offered food and medicine instead.  Castro, recognizing the importance of these commodities to his people, accepted the offer in the value amount equaling $52 million in addition to $2.9 million in cash for sixty POWS that had already been released.

The October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis put a temporary cog in the deal, but after the crisis was resolved with JFK's popularity at a high mark and the physical condition of the POWS deteriorating, negotiations were quickly back on track.

In a speech to win support from the American Pharmaceutical Association on December 7, RFK said...

"My brother made a mistake.  These men fought well, the disaster was no fault of theirs.  They are our responsibility."

200 corporations gave something--the total included $23 million in pharmaceuticals, $7 million in surgical and dental supplies, $9 million in powdered milk and $14 million in baby food.

Throughout the negotiations, RFK was "a constant presence, cajoling and mollifying contributors as necessary," but it was not Robert Kennedy who brokered the was Jim Donovan.

The Attorney General did raise the $2.9 million paid to Castro, one-third coming as a result of "a single phone call" to Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston.

The Royal Bank of Canada issued a check for the total amount to its branch in Havana and the check was quickly in Castro's hands.  The planes bearing the POWS landed at Miami International Airport on Christmas Eve.

1,163 members of the Exile Brigade had been released and Jim Donovan also "secured the departure of some 3500 of their relatives."

*James B. Donovan (1916-1970) was a graduate of Harvard.  He served as legal council for the Office of Strategic Services during WWII.  He was assistant trial counsel in the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial and presented the filmed evidence of Nazi atrocities against the Jews.  

JBD ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in 1962 and became president of Pratt Institute (art school) in New York.

Negotiator: The Life and Career
of James B. Donovan
by Philip J. Bigger (2006)


"Brilliant Disaster:  JFK, Castro and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs," by Jim Rasenberger, Scribner (Simon and Schuster, Inc), New York, 2011.

"US-Cuban Diplomacy, 'Nation' Style," by Peter Kornbluh, The Nation, April 29, 2013.

POWs of the Bay of Pigs


Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) On December 23, 1946 President Harry S Truman appointed an amnesty board to review the cases of those imprisoned for refusal to serve the United States in the Second World War.

The 15,000 cases involved men who were drafted into the service but refused to serve in any capacity, combatant or otherwise.

The President wanted the board to review individual cases to determine if any were unjustly punished and would be eligible for presidential pardon.

The board reported back one year later that 1500 of the 15,000 cases merited "full amnesty."  They included those belonging to pacifist religious groups.  On December 23, 1947, President Truman granted a pardon in these cases and restored political and civil rights to those so pardoned.

            President Harry S. Truman