To silence the criticism abroad of the many executions, Fidel Castro hit on a spectacular rebuttal. He would open the the controversial trials to public inspection. He named the project Operation Truth, only the first of scores of expensive and time-consuming projects organized by the revolutionary government to bring foreigners to their country and impress them with lavish displays of hospitality. Nearly four hundred journalists from twenty countries had been invited to Havana, and those who came were lodged at the elegant Hotel Riviera. The Cubans treated the occasion like a festival, picking up the tab for everything-rooms, cocktails, and fancy dinners. In the hotel's Copa Room a display of photographs documented the alleged atrocities of the Batistianos. As the journalists waited for Castro, who was scheduled to address them, they were offered ice-cold daiquiris, related a British newsman, "by Cuban maidens obviously chosen for their dark-haired beauty and, of course, their shapeliness."
The journalists had been told to be there at 9:00 AM Castro arrived noisily at 11:15 with his armed guard. As he entered the cabaret he was announced as Cuba's "Maximum Leader." He still wore the medallion of the Virgin of Cobre around his neck.
To the stirring beat of a military march played on a phonograph, he defended the purge trials. The powerful "vested interests" were trying to drive a wedge between him and the "friendly people" in other countries. He complained of misrepresentations by the Mexican caricaturist Guillermo Vela, who had inserted the words "blood bath" in one of his cartoons. Hereafter, he said, the trials would be held in the Sports Palace, which seated fifteen thousand spectators, and would be carried live on national radio and television.
Outside the hotel schoolteachers and their young pupils marched through Vedado with banners proclaiming "Justice against the Assassins!" and "Execute the Murderers!" A public opinion poll showed that 93 percent of all Cubans favored the executions.
The Roman circus atmosphere in the Sports palace produced references in the foreign press to martyred Christians, lions, and gladiators, and Operation Truth only served to make matters worse for the Cuban government.
On the same day that Castro took charge of the cabinet, another trial opened, in Santiago de Cuba. Forty members of Batista's air force had been accused of wantonly bombing and strafing open cities and towns. The zealous prosecutor demanded the death penalty for the pilots and bombardiers and prison sentences for the mechanics who had serviced the planes. In Havana, Castro called the officers the "worst criminals of the Batista regime" and demanded their conviction on all counts. The defense lawyers contended that the attacks had been carried out by others, who had since left the country.
On March 2 the court, citing the lack of conclusive evidence, acquitted all defendants. Castro was outraged. He rejected the decisions and announced that the "criminals" would be retried. "It would be the height of ingenuousness," he said, "for a people and a revolution to free those who have been the most cowardly assassins and servants of tyranny." He maintained that revolutionary justice was based not on legal precepts but on the "moral conviction" of the people. Despite the protests of the National College of Lawyers that a second trial breached Cuban law, all those charged, except for the mechanics, were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. In Santiago the prime minister justified his decision to order a second trial. And he criticized the defense attorneys for attempting to free "war criminals." Fidel Castro had taken the first step to destroy the traditional legal system that had governed Cuba since independence. Thereafter, laws would be what the country's Maximum Leader said they were.
While Castro gave his support to freedom of the press, while traveling in the United States, a revolutionary court in Havana sentenced a columnist to ten years at hard labor for writing that the rebels were a bunch of "thieves and bandits." Castro stated that he thought that the words of Lincoln supported the ideals of the Cuban revolution.
On May 7 Castro returned to Havana and was met at the airport by Philip Bonsal, the American ambassador, who asked for an early meeting to discuss relations between the two countries. Castro readily agreed. The same day the cabinet voted to suspend the rights of habeas corpus in Cuba for a period of ninety days.
May - September Che Guevara sent by Fidel Castro on an extensive trip to North Africa and the Far East.