Today marks the 57th anniversary of the beginning of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. The invasion was an attempt at seizing military control of the island nation by the United States, orchestrated by the CIA and fought by Brigade 2506, a paramilitary force constituted of Cuban exiles and American operatives. The invasion was a dismal failure, with the invading force surrendering after less than three days.
Prior to the Cuban Revolution, Cuba was ruled by a strongarm president named Fulgencio Batista, who had a cozy relationship with American political and corporate powers. Americans dominated multiple Cuban industries. After the Revolution, Castro took dramatic measures to nationalize those industries and institute sweeping land reforms. President Eisenhower responded by having the CIA recruit and train Cuban exiles living in Miami to form an invasion force. He also imposed an import embargo on Cuban sugar. Sugar export was a critical pillar of the Cuban economy. The USSR, a recent Cuban ally, stepped in to purchase the sugar America left on the table.
When John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, he was told by multiple advisors that Fidel Castro did not pose a significant threat to the United States. Kennedy, however, imagined that humbling upstart Castro would set an example for the Communist world. Kennedy approved the invasion plan on April 4, 1961.
The invasion force assembled in Guatemala. On April 15, eight B-26 bombers attacked airfields in Cuba. The following night, the land forces landed at Playa Girón, a beach in the Bay of Pigs. A quick victory over local militia forces seemed to be an encouraging sign. However, defeat loomed.
As the world learned about America’s actions, global opinion soured. In an attempt to improve optics, Kennedy decided against providing the air support that Eisenhower had originally prescribed for the operation. It would prove a dramatically bad decision. The Cuban forces, led directly by Castro, trounced the invasion. Bereft of air or naval support, the American-backed forces surrendered on April 20. Most of them were interrogated and thrown in prison.
The Bay of Pigs invasion was a complete disaster. Far from ousting Castro, it galvanized the Cuban people in their support of him. It also made Cuba’s ties to the USSR much stronger, leading directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Bay of Pigs was a national embarrassment and presaged many coming decades of political monkeywrenching in the Latin world by American intelligence. The CIA tried over six hundred times to kill Fidel Castro, and he survived them all.