JFK+50: Volume 6, No. 1806JAMES DONOVAN WINS RELEASE OF BAY OF PIGS POWS
Havana, Cuba (JFK+50) Fifty-three years ago today, December 23, 1962, just two days before Christmas Day, Fidel Castro released prisoners captured during the ill-fated invasion at the Bay of Pigs of 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, on July 2nd. Donovan was sent 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 delayed the deal, but after the crisis was resolved 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 $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 the Attorney General was "a constant presence, cajoling and mollifying contributors as necessary," but it was not Robert Kennedy who brokered the deal...it was Jim Donovan.
The Attorney General raised 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.
"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.
Negotiator: The Life and Career