The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a failed attempt by the CIA-sponsored and trained military group Brigade 2506 made up of Cuban exiles to invade Cuba and overthrow the Communist government of Fidel Castro. The invading forces were defeated by the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces in just three days. The failed invasion was a major embarrassment for the United States and the Kennedy administration. It strengthened the positions of the Castro’s government, as well as the relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union, which eventually led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It also put a serious rift between the United States and Cuba, and this issue has not been resolved yet.
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In 1952, General Fulgencio Batista seized power in Cuba in a military coup and proclaimed himself the president. Batista was supported by the United States, as he was representing the American interests in Cuba, and a lot of American companies were doing business on the island and owned much of prime land. However, President Batista’s government was highly unpopular among the Cuban population, because it was extremely corrupt and oppressive, and the gap between the rich and the poor was widening. In addition to that, Batista had an alliance with the American mafia, who were running most of the illegal activities in Havana.1 Eventually, the brutality of the regime and stagnating economy put a start to the Cuban Revolution that primarily consisted of sporadic student demonstrations.
Soon, however, different revolutionary groups began military action against the Batista government in the form of guerrilla operations. One of the groups, called 26th of July Movement was led by Fidel Castro. In 1959, after a couple of years of fighting, Castro’s forces overthrew President Batista and seized control of the government. Fulgencio Batista was exiled from Cuba and had to flee to the Dominican Republic.
However, despite Castro’s overall popularity, his regime proved to be almost as brutal as its predecessor, which led to many Cubans fleeing to the United States looking for asylum. Castro also nationalized all of the businesses and properties in Cuba owned by the United States, and it served as an attempt to improve the failing economy and get rid of the American influence.
That prompted a response from the United States, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower implemented economic sanctions against Cuba, which evolved into a full economic embargo under President John F. Kennedy.2 As Castro’s regime became increasingly more communist and his rhetoric became incendiary anti-American, any diplomatic ties with Cuba were severed by the United States.
Amid the rising tensions between the two countries, the CIA and the Eisenhower administration started developing plans to change the regime in Havana. Different strategies were discussed, including an assassination of Fidel Castro, but eventually, it was agreed that the best way to deal with it would be an invasion by seaborne forces. In 1960, the Democratic Party nominee John F. Kennedy beat the Republican candidate Vice President Richard Nixon and won the presidential election, so it was up to his administration to proceed with the plan. In April of 1961, President Kennedy approved the plan to invade Cuba from the Bay of Pigs area, the plan that was also known as Operation Zapata. Kennedy was determined to keep the plans covert and disguise the fact that the United States was involved in the operation. The landing point at the Bay of Pigs was chosen as a part of this attempt to hide the US involvement, as it was a remote and quiet area.
The government, however, was not successful at keeping the operation a secret. According to Willmetts, “on 7 April 1961, ten days before the Bay of Pigs invasion, the New York Times ran a story on its front page that reported the build-up of Cuban exile forces in Florida and Guatemala preparing for an imminent attack”.3 Before that, the press was reporting on the CIA training camps in Guatemala, where Cuban exiles were preparing for the invasion, along with other information about training bases in the Caribbean and the United States. These reports, which continued throughout the invasion, were revealing important details of the operation to the Cubans, as well as to the rest of the world. As a result, the Kennedy administration had to make some crucial changes to the plans.
On April 15th, before the invasion, a number of sorties by B-26 bombers were launched from Nicaragua, tasked with attacking three major Cuban airfields. The planes were marked as the Cuban Revolutionary Air Force planes as a diversion and crewed by the exiles. The raids were not very successful and were only able to damage but not eliminate the Cuban airpower. Willmetts notes that the “unprecedented coverage of a CIA covert operation helped dissuade President Kennedy from providing sustained air support to the rebels, thus sealing their fate” and that “skeptical response to the US government’s attempts to pass off the pre-invasion bombing of Castro’s airbases as the work of escaped Cuban pilots, for example, helped convince Kennedy to make the fateful decision to cancel the second round of airstrikes”.4 Therefore, the press played a significant role in influencing the decisions made by President Kennedy and the eventual failure of the invasion.
According to Dunne, “two years after Batista’s ousting an estimated 100,000 Cuban exiles were living in Florida, mainly in Greater Miami, forming some fifty ‘conspiring’ groups – though the CIA put the number at nearly 200”.5 Since 1960, the CIA was recruiting and training the anti-Castro exiles that would comprise the invading force. That group of exiles was named Brigade 2506.
The invasion started on the night of 17 April 1961, when about 1,400 troops landed on the south coast of Cuba in the Bay of Pigs. The troops were supported by a number of the CIA operatives. However, the landing was delayed because of some unforeseen circumstances such as engine failures, and the local militia was able to warn the Cuban armed forces about the invasion. While the ships were still unloading troops, they came under attack by the Cuban air force. The latter was able to sink two ships, destroy a part of the invading air support, and it led to some of the troops losing their weapons and equipment. In the morning, Fidel Castro issued a statement about the invasion and said that the Cuban exiles have come to destroy the revolution.6 The Cuban troops started advancing toward the beaches, supported by tanks and artillery. The invaders had to retreat.
Bad weather also acted as a detriment to the effectiveness of both the invading ground troops and the air support. On April 19th which was the third day of the invasion, the situation was becoming more and more desperate, and President Kennedy had to authorize an air strike. The air strike consisted of about half a dozen B-26 planes piloted by the CIA contracted pilots and air crews from the Alabama Air Guard. The planes, however, were shot down by the Cubans, and several American airmen were killed. Later on that day the invading forces were decisively defeated. More than a thousand of exiles surrendered, while about a hundred of Brigade 2506 members were killed.7 The exact number of casualties sustained by the Cuban armed forces is unknown, but they were heavier than those of the invading force.
The failed invasion was a major embarrassment for the Kennedy administration. As noted by Rasenberger, “despite the Kennedy administration’s initial insistence that the United States had nothing to do with the invasion, the world immediately understood that the entire operation had been organized and funded by the U.S. government”.8 The victory also helped to increase the popular support for Fidel Castro both in Cuba and throughout Latin America. The possibility of ever overthrowing the regime was greatly diminished. Nevertheless, President Kennedy publicly took the responsibility for the failure. The United States negotiated a deal with Castro, and the imprisoned members of Brigade 2506 were released in exchange for $53 million worth of food and medicine.9 However, Kennedy also blamed the CIA for the failure of the operation, while the CIA blamed the president for not providing enough air support. President Kennedy started an inquiry into the CIA, and, subsequently, the CIA director Allen Dulles and several other CIA officials had to resign. In the following years, the Kennedy administration did not leave the attempts to destabilize the Cuban government.
The Bay of Pigs invasion was a significant event with lasting global effects. One of its results was the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war. It also greatly affected the political and cultural climate in the United States.
Durham, Robert B. False Flags, Covert Operations, & Propaganda. Raleigh, NC: Lulu.com, 2014
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Dunne, Michael. “Perfect Failure: The USA, Cuba and the Bay of Pigs, 1961.” The Political Quarterly 82, (July 2011): 448-458.
Jones, Howard. The Bay of Pigs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Rasenberger, Jim. The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. New York City, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2012.
Renwick, Danielle, Lee, Brianna, and James McBride. “US-Cuba Relations.” Council on Foreign Relations 19, (March 2015).
Willmetts, Simon. The Burgeoning Fissures of Dissent: Allen Dulles and the Selling of the CIA in the Aftermath of the Bay of Pigs. History 100, (March 2015): 167-188.
- Howard Jones, The Bay of Pigs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 9.
- Danielle Renwick, Brianna Lee, and James McBride. “US-Cuba Relations,” Council on Foreign Relations 19 (March 2015).
- Simon Willmetts, “The Burgeoning Fissures of Dissent: Allen Dulles and the Selling of the CIA in the Aftermath of the Bay of Pigs,” History 100, (March 2015): 168.
- Willmetts, 168.
- Michael Dunne, “Perfect Failure: The USA, Cuba and the Bay of Pigs, 1961,” The Political Quarterly 82 (July 2011): 452.
- Robert B. Durham, False Flags, Covert Operations, & Propaganda (Raleigh, NC: Lulu.com, 2014).
- Jim Rasenberger, The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America’s Doomed Invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs (New York City, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2012), 13.
- Dunne, 452.