On January 9, 1959, following their successful overthrow of the oppressive Batista regime, a band of freedom fighters, anchored by Fidel Castro, marched through the Cuban capital city of Havana. Upon his arrival, Castro immediately seized control of the Cuban government and declared himself the highest executive of the island nation, Premier of Cuba. In April of 1959, Castro visited the United States in order to gain support for his policies in leading Cuba. The majority of Americans warmly embraced Castro, “assuming that this charismatic leader would guide Cuba to democracy” (Cuba). Some Americans remained cautious in accepting Castro, however, primarily disturbed by his previously demonstrated socialist sympathies. In the following month, Americans were given reasons to become anti-Castro as the Premier took hold American owned sugar plantations, Cuba’s multi-national companies, and the nation’s petroleum holdings (Cuba). By the end of 1959, the nation began to show signs of Communist involvement. Communist affiliated groups took control of the nation’s military, bureaucracy, and labor movement, and Soviet interest in the island increased.
In February of 1960, “Anastas Mikoyan, vice-prime minister of the Soviet Union, came to Cuba. . . . A major topic [of the meeting] was the Soviet Union’s purchase of Cuban sugar and [the Cuban] purchase of Russian oil” (Franqui 66). Following the meeting, the Soviet Union entered into a trade agreement with the USSR, causing the United States to drastically limit the import of Cuban sugar into the nation. In response, Cuba nationalized all remaining American properties and negotiated an expanded trade agreement and loans with the Soviets, causing the United States to break all diplomatic relations with the country (Cuba). Before the end of 1960, the USSR had begun sending military aid to the Cubans. (Cuba)
“The U. S. government was by now convinced that Cuba had become a Communist state” (Dolan 92-93). The falling of Cuba into a Communist regime proved extremely important to the U. S., primarily due to Cuba’s proximity to the United States, only 90 miles. In addition, “there were reports that the Soviet Union intended to make a staging base out of Cuba for the communization of the other Latin-American countries and rumors that construction projects inside Cuba appeared to be designed for launching missiles” (Rivero 170). To stop the spread of Communism in the Western Hemisphere, Americans felt that “the island’s government had to be toppled” (Dolan 93).
Upon hearing from Cuban exiles that a great deal of unrest had been present on the island, Washington saw the time as ripe for an invasion attempt (Rivero 183). The U.S. government put the Central Intelligence Agency in charge of plotting the attempt, along with officers from the Pentagon. The goal of the CIA-planned attempt would be to mask American involvement in the coup, so that the United States could not encounter accusations of “illegally endangering the sovereignty of an established foreign government” (Dolan 93). The plan entailed using Cuban exiles to carry out an uprising, seemingly attempting to liberate their country.
Following the planning of the invasion, the CIA utilized their Guatemalan bases in training 1,300 exiles (Dolan 93). News of the supposedly secret plan leaked to Castro, who “accused Washington of planning the worst sort of intervention in the island’s affairs” and damned the United States for “dropping the attitude of neutrality it had long professed in regard to Cuba” (93). The Premier put the island’s defense forces on alert and ordered them to prepare and be ready for an attack. On March 29, 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave the CIA permission to proceed with the launch the Cuban invasion. Changes were made to the plan however, the most important being the ban of U.S. air support of the campaign, excluding air attacks on three Cuban air bases (Rivero 184). Along with the ban came the necessity of “a simultaneous mass uprising by the Cuban people” (184); without mass popular support, the invasion was doomed to failure.
Two days prior to the invasion, B-26 bombers attacked three crucial Cuban air bases, San Antonio, Cuba’s main base, Camp Liberty in Havana, Castro’s main headquarters, and the military airport at Santiago de Cuba (Rivero 184). A second wave of B-26 strikes was planned as well, but was called off by President Kennedy, who was suspected to have “felt that strong U.S. participation would threaten a war with Russia” (Dolan 95). The cancellation of the second group of air strikes left Castro with one-third of his air force and the goal of destroying the entire air force unfulfilled.
Two days after the air strikes took place, approximately 1,500 CIA-supported Cuban exiles landed near the Bay of Pigs. The men were accompanied by “old, unmarked American B-26 bombers that dropped leaflets urging the Cuban people to rise against Castro and join the attack force” (Dolan 93). The invaders assumed that the leaflets would draw the widespread support of Cubans unhappy with their government. In the three days in which the people would supposedly aid in holding off Castro’s forces, the invaders were to set up a provisional government and appeal for American help. From there, the United States would recognize the provisional government and intervene in overthrowing the Castro regime (93).
The CIA plan assumed excessively, mostly due to the optimism derived from the agency’s previous successes in staging coups in Guatemala and Iran, and all of the invasion plans resulted in complete failure: “The expected assistance did not come from the island’s dissidents. On being hit by Castro’s air force, the attackers asked that U.S. Navy jets be sent to help them.” The planes, however, never appeared, due to the Kennedy-issued ban on U.S. air involvement (Dolan 95). After two days, Castro’s forces had thoroughly suppressed the attack, killing 150 of the men, and capturing approximately 1,200 of the attackers (95).
According to the authors of Cuba and the United States: Troubled Neighbors, “Kennedy had never liked the idea” (Dolan 95) of an American-sponsored invasion of Cuba, mostly due to his belief that it would undoubtedly fail. The plan had been created under the Eisenhower administration, and Kennedy had little input in its creation. Nevertheless, the President allowed the “invasion” to occur, and “despite his opposition to the whole affair, he accepter full responsibility for its failure because he was in office at the time it was staged” (95). While Kennedy had been assured that the plan he approved would be both secret and successful, “he discovered too late that it was too large to remain secret and too small to succeed” (Wyden 310).
Kennedy was greatly upset by the failure of the invasion, and he held himself personally responsible, for both the lives of the men who died as well as for the 1,200 men whom “his government had helped send to their imprisonment” (qtd. in 310). Kennedy viewed the failure as “the ultimate failure of his career” (310), and from the defeat, “his prestige suffered a severe blow” (Dolan 96). About a year and a half later, however, “he was to regain that lost prestige” (96), in his impressive handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Cuba Exhibit – History. The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. 2001 .
Dolan, Edward E., and Margaret M. Scariano. Cuba and the United States: Troubled Neighbors. New York: Franklin Watts, 1987.
Franqui, Carlos. Family Portrait with Fidel. New York: Random House, 1984.
Rivero, Nicholas. Castro’s Cuba: An American Dilemma. New York: Van Rees P, 1962.
Sierra, J.A.. Timetable History of Cuba: After the Revolution. 27 Aug. 2001 < www.historyofcuba.com/history/timetbl4.htm>
Wyden, Peter. Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story. New York: Simon, 1979.