E. Howard Negroponte,
INT: Going back to the Guatemalan army, did it surprise you that they didn't fight the invasion...?
HH: Yes. Nobody had anticipated that.
INT: Start the answer again, because when we both talk...
HH: All right...
Did it surprise me that they did not fight? Very much. We all anticipated an armed struggle - not of great proportions or of long duration, but we did anticipate that, we anticipated some bloodshed.
INT: So when the government of Arbenz collapsed because the army told him, "Sorry, we can't support you because..." they actually said, "the Americans will just blow us apart if we fight this invasion force," for whatever reason they thought that, with your surprise - I mean, do you remember... I know you weren't anywhere near Guatemala, but when you got the news, what did you do?
HH: Well, I was in Tokyo then, I was just settling in. I'd been yanked off the project, it having been said by Dulles that, you know, "You're almost finished here - everything is going well. We need you badly in Tokyo; please get on the next plane, as it were, and get over there." So, for the actual fighting... not fighting, but the invasion, I was in Tokyo, and the station there knew hardly anything about the Guatemalan project: they just knew that something was going on. And so, when I started seeing the cables coming in, describing what was happening in Guatemala, I was just overjoyed, and I found it hard to believe that there had been no bloodshed, no armed confrontation. Castillo Armas only had about 140 people working for him, a ragtag group if there ever was one, but then we had done the same thing in another part of the world a few years earlier. People don't have to be in spiffy uniforms: they can ... just so long as they can form a military presence and impress the population.
INT: What part did the American ambassador, Purefoy, play in this business?
HH: Well, Purefoy was very, very helpful. He was sort of a prisoner (Laughs) of ours, of CIA and of the Department of State. He owed his ambassadorship to Eisenhower, and he understood that co-operation with us was part of the deal, and so he bent over backward to do everything he could. He had had one or two private conversations with Arbenz, trying to persuade... first of all, to determine to his own satisfaction that Arbenz was a communist, and secondly, to tell Arbenz that he was on a very sticky wicket and ought to change his direction. Of course, that did nothing at all, because Arbenz I don't think had a free will in all of this, I think that his wife was giving him the directions; she was a lot smarter, and between her and Fortuny, he was the low man on the totem pole. But Purefoy was very, very helpful. I won't say that we couldn't have done it without him, but it would just have been a little harder, a little more difficult. And then in Honduras we had Whitey Willard as ambassador, and he'd been a Flying Tiger in China at a time when I was in China, and although I didn't know him over there, everybody thought well of him, and he was the one who had to oversee all the black flights in and out of Honduras, the building of the radio station, all the transmission to keep...
INT: Mr. Hunt, we'll go back over just the last bit that we were talking about before we ran out of tape. We were talking about the ambassador, John Purefoy, sometimes called Jack Purefoy, and his importance in the operation. He was an ardent anti-Communist, I have read, but could you just repeat some of the things that you said, how he was involved in PB Success?
HH: Well, I never thought of Jack Purefoy as being an ardent anti-Communist. He'd been director of security for the Department of State at a time when Mr. Truman denied that we had any communists in the Department of State, and Purefoy backed him up, and his pay-off for that was to be made ambassador to Greece. Of course, over in Greece he'd seen a great deal of communist-anti-communist bloody struggle, so that may have made a convert of him, but he didn't start out as an ardent anti-Communist. He was useful to us, to the Department of State, to the Eisenhower Administration and to the nation because he was expendable: if he did well for us, if he co-operated and accomplished things that we wanted done, then he had a chance to complete a career as a diplomat; and if he screwed up, he was gone, and he knew it. I suppose that somebody told him in just so many words. John Foster Dulles could easily have... told him that and gotten away with it. But Purefoy, once he got into the hang of the thing, once he got the feel of it, and the surge took place mentally and physically, then he did everything he could to co-operate with us and help bring Arbenz down.
INT: When Arbenz fled, or was allowed to leave the country...
INT: ... and I believe [there were] three or four different governments in three or four different days before they established Castillo Armas as president... Guatemala was apparently going to have the peace and security that it deserved, but in fact embarked on decades of violence, and the Cold War really became a war there, as it did in other parts of Central America. When you look back on that, did you think the coup particularly ignited the Cold War in Central America, or was it endemic anyway?
HH: No, I think I take a third position on that. The defenestration of Arbenz was necessary, regardless of what the tactical consequences might have been. Strategically, it was absolutely necessary that he go and that the government be replaced. The great mistake that the United States made at the termination of the project, was that, as in so many other instances, having achieved objective A, we turned our backs on Guatemala and went about other things that were of higher priority at that time to that Administration or succeeding Administration, and left this army colonel, Castillo Armas, in charge of a country without... we didn't give him any backing, we didn't send in advisers, we didn't do anything particularly financially for him. I guess we figured that United Fruit would take care of him. Whether they did or not, I don't know. But by the time he was assassinated three years later, by a soldier and his bodyguard, who was an ardent listener to Radio Moscow, there was no fall-back position, and that was what caused the... even today, the decades-long civil strife in Guatemala, that there was no fall-back, that three years were insufficient for an untutored army colonel of questionable educational background to establish a kind of a democracy in Guatemala that we hoped would flourish and grow. But the United States has always done that; we settle for immediate objectives and, unlike the Soviets, did not have our eye on the distant future.
INT: The next big problem, I guess, in the region was Cuba, when Castro overthrew Batista. You have personal memories of the operation that was modeled on your successful PB Success. Can you tell me about that, how it came to be, and indeed what it's called?
HH: Four or five years later, it became apparent that... and I was in Montevideo at the time, as I recall... that there were groups of leftist students marching through the streets with big Cuban flags and blankets, collecting funds for Fidel Castro, who at that point was believed to be a bandit up in the hills of Cuba. And... so I became aware that there could be a problem in Cuba, but I thought: good God, here's a man with... a band of like 81 followers who landed with him when he came in from Mexico, and here Batisthas this in a sense a well-trained-by-the-US army and all kinds of civil police and internal restrictions and safeguards - there's just no way that this... Cuba is going to go the way that Guatemala did. So I didn't pay a lot of attention to it, ... of course, I could read the newspapers as well as anyone, and realized that things were getting desperate there; and then suddenly Batista fled, and Castro was in. So I was yanked back fromMontevideo, where I would have been content to spend the rest of my life, and told: "What we're doing is reassembling the PB Success team" - that is, the Guatemala operational team - "to take care of Castro, as we did before." Well, of course, this was a much different situation: a much larger body of land, an entrenched or a well-trained, devoted communist group of followers of Castro, and the idea that the kind of psychological warfare we were able to run against Castro was... it was insignificant in the long run. Castro, was secure, and he was beloved by millions in Cuba, and it was a different situation than Guatemala. So, instead of our having a problem such as we had in Guatemala, of using less than 200 locals to overthrow a government, we were faced with a Cuban army, a Cuban militia, a loyal population - loyal to Castro, that is. He had his own air force, and really his own navy. None of these things obtained in the Guatemala situation. So, like topsy, it just grew and grew and grew. My role was very similar to what it had been in the Guatemalan project; I was located down here in Miami, in Coconut Grove, I was equipped with a safe house. And by that time, several hundred thousand Cuban exiles had come over here and made their home here. I was... told to go over to Havana undercover, and give a personal assessment of the situation. The main object that I was to consider while there was the strength of Castro's popularity on the street: in short, if there is an opposition invasion of Cuba, will the populace take up arms against Castro, or will they stay loyal to him? I stayed three or four days in Havana at that time, got out on the street, talked with a lot of people - taxi drivers, naturally, and men and women who ran these small lunch stands down at the at the waterfront - and all I could detect was a lot of enthusiasm for Fidel Castro.
INT: Then why did the Bay of Pigs, as it called, fail initially...? I mean, I think there's quite a short answer, isn't there?
HH: A short answer?
INT: I'm thinking of... it wasn't the original landing place: it was switched, and the White House wouldn't provide air cover.
HH: That's right.
INT: Could you talk me through that one?
HH: Sure. When I came back, I wrote a top secret report, and I had five recommendations, one of which was the one that's always been thrown at me, is that during... or... slightly antecedent to an invasion, Castro would have to be neutralized - and we all know what that meant, although I didn't want to say so in a memorandum with my name on it. Another one was that a landing had to be made at such a point in Cuba, presumably by airborne troops, that would quarter the nation, and that was the Trinidad project; cut the communications east to west, and there would be confusion. None of that took place. Once, when I came back from Coconut Grove and said, "What about... is anybody going after Castro? Are you going to get rid of him?", "It's in good hands," was the answer I got, which was a great bureaucratic answer. But the long and the short of it was that no attempt that I ever heard of was made against Castro's life specifically. President Idigros Fuentes of Guatemala was good enough to give our Cuban exiles two training areas in his country, one in the mountains, and then at (Retardo Lejo) we had an unused airstrip that he gave over to us, which we put into first-class condition for our fighter aircraft and our supply aircraft, and we trained Cuban paratroopers there. And the brigade never numbered more than about 1,500, which was 10 times more than Castillo Armas commanded.
INT: Can I just push you forward a little bit? Why really, in short...
HH: Why what?
INT: Why, in a shorter answer, did the operation fail, whereas before... I mean, we know it had been a success in Guatemala, but why did the Bay of Pigs invasion fail?
HH: OK. I was instructed by Eisenhower's Office to tell the exile leadership that I dealt with every day that the United States would cover the landing groups, the landing brigade, and that there would be no hostile air. That was a definite commitment made by the Administration to me, and a commitment that I made to the Cuban exiles. So there was no reason to think that anything was going to fail.
INT: But you had another Administration come in before.
HH: That's right, that's right. And oddly enough, many of the Cuban exiles thought that was going to be great for them. Of course, it turned out to be quite the opposite.