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 1961 — UC Berkeley students participate in Bay Area protests against CIA-backed invasion of Castro's Cuba

The Cuban Revolution


The Cuban Revolution was an armed revolt conducted by Fidel Castro's revolutionary 26th of July Movement against the military dictatorship of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista.  After a long campaign, the rebels finally ousted Batista on December 31, 1958, replacing his government with a socialist state.  The revolution brought an end to Havana's hundreds of night clubs and brothels, the notorious playground for rich, jaded Americans, including the Mafia and Hollywood's elite.

The Revolution brought an end to Cuba's strong economic ties to the United States, after Castro nationalized American banks, oil refineries, sugar and coffee plantations and other American owned businesses.

Castro's new Cuba appealed strongly to the American left, because of it's democratic ideals and socialist power  structure.  In 1960 the Castro government initiated a policy guaranteeing universal, free access to health care and education.  Housing was nationalized and was to be free.  As of now, housing is not free, but rents are so highly subsidized by  the government that homelessness is effectively nonexistent in Cuba.

The CIA invasion of Cuba


In 1961, the American government backed an invasion of Cuba by an anti-Castro, anti-Communist militia.  President Eisenhower had set aside funds for a plan to overthrow Castro, and President John F. Kennedy made it a campaign pledge to support Castro's ouster.  The militia consisted mainly of Cubans who had fled the revolution or were exiled from Cuba as counter-revolutionaries.  Brigade 2506 was trained by the CIA in Guatemala and designed as a covert operation with the U.S. government denying involvement.


A total of 1,400 paramilitaries, infantry, and paratroopers took part in the invasion, supported by CIA-supplied B-26 bombers.  After the counter-revolutionaries were routed by the Cuban military, President Kennedy admitted responsibility for U.S. involvement,  embarrassing U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, who had vociferously denied U.S. involvement in the April 15 airstrikes

The effect of the failed invasion was to make Castro a national hero and to give Kennedy a major policy failure.   In response to the threat to the only Communist government in the western hemisphere, the Soviet Union came to Cuba's defense with strong financial and educational support that continued until the fall of the USSR in 1991.  


Bay Area protests of the invasion of Cuba


On April 21, 1961 the progressive community in the San Francisco Bay area rallied in support of the Cuban people at the Federal Building in San Francisco.   A number of well-known activists spoke while Cuban and American flags were raised.  By early 1962 CIA Director Allen Dulles and other CIA officials were forced to resign to shift the blame for the Bay of Pigs fiasco away from Kennedy.  In reassessing the botched attempt to oust Castro, it was admitted that "wishful thinking" had overpowered common sense.

The blockade of Cuba


Other ways of removing Castro, including at least one attempted assassination, were tried after the invasion, all failing.  The American government then turned to "el blokeo," the economic blockade  which continues to this day.  For thirty years the USSR gave economic and educational support to Communist Cuba, a major factor in Cuba's survival.  After the fall of communism in 1991, Europe took Russia's place and became Cuba's major trading partner.  Nevertheless, the blockade has led to severe shortages of food and other goods in Cuba, including imported cars, producing the strange sight of classic 1950's American cars on the streets of Havana to this day.

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UC Berkeley students attend a "Fair Play for Cuba" rally in April, 1961, protesting the CIA-sponsored attack on Castro's Cuba.  Sociology graduate student Maurice Zeitlin also spoke at this unauthorized rally.


The Fair Play for Cuba Committee organized this protest in San Francisco on April 21, 1961.   All the following photographs were taken in San Francisco on that date.


Matthew "Dynamite" Hallinan speaks to

Cuban supporters at the San Francisco Federal Building.


Protesters carry a mock coffin in front of San Francisco Federal Building.


Well known local  progressive activist Ozzo Morro ("Keep your slimey hands off") marches in a group toward Union Square.


This man's Cuban flag supplements his picket sign.


Supporters of Cuba protest on Market Street in San Francisco.


A group of ant-communist, anti-Castro demonstrators at Union Square. 

Maurice Zeitlin, UCB Sociology graduate student and effective orator, gives a speech to the protesters in Union Square.


Part of the large crowd in Union Square protesting the Cuban Invasion.

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Another photo of an anti-Castro contingent at Union Square.  Note the reference to "Hallinan" on the left-most sign.  The large Irish-American Hallinan family was well-known as a somewhat pugnacious  group of Bay Area progressive activists.   

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