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Ronald Hilton, 95; scholar uncovered Cuban invasion plan

February 28, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Ronald Hilton, a noted Latin America scholar who uncovered preparations for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, died Feb. 20 at his longtime home on the Stanford University campus. He was 95.

The cause was cancer, said his daughter, Mary H. Huyck of Greenwich, Conn.

Hilton was "an independent and fearless scholar," Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote in a blog this week recounting his role in an article exposing the planned invasion.

In 1960, Hilton, then director of Stanford's Institute of Hispanic American Studies, returned from a research trip to Guatemala with news that the CIA had established a base there to train a guerrilla force of Cuban exiles for an invasion of Cuba.

He said the CIA mission to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro was an open secret in Guatemala and had even been the subject of an article in that country's leading newspaper, La Hora.

Carey McWilliams, the Nation's editor at the time, confirmed the details with Hilton, including information on the location of the CIA base, and obtained permission to quote him in a November 1960 article.

Only a few newspapers picked up the story, and the invasion occurred in April 1961.

Hilton long held the U.S. press in contempt for failing to work more vigorously to expose plans for the attack, which resulted in a high number of casualties and ultimately strengthened Castro's position.

Born in Torquay, England, in 1911, Hilton received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Oxford before embarking on an extended tour of Europe as the continent descended into war.

He bicycled around Germany in the 1930s and observed the Nazis consolidating power and found himself in Spain at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. During several years in Spain, he met most of the era's leading intellectuals, including Federico Garcia Lorca, the poet and dramatist who was killed by partisans at the outset of the war.

After a stint teaching in Canada, Hilton joined the faculty of Stanford as a professor of Romantic languages in 1941. Four years later, he founded the university's Institute of Hispanic American Studies, which published the Hispanic American Report, the journal where his news of the Bay of Pigs preparations first appeared.

In 1946, he became a U.S. citizen.

He retired from teaching in 1976 but continued to direct the World Assn. of International Studies, a network of scholars that he founded in 1965. Now a Web-based organization, it sponsors conferences and promotes debate on international affairs.

Hilton also edited the multivolume Who's Who in Latin America and published the two-volume Scientific Institutions of Latin America, among other books. He continued to work with the association, publishing articles and organizing conferences, until shortly before his death.

Survivors include his wife, Mary; his daughter; and three grandchildren.

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