Bay of Pigs,
site in Cuba of the failed April 1961 invasion by Cuban exiles trained by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
U.S. leaders ranked Premier Fidel Castro's growing ties with the Soviet Union; his radical, anti-Yankee Cuban Revolution; and his call for revolutions elsewhere as major threats to U.S. interests in Latin America. In late 1959, U.S. officials recruited anti-Castro Cubans in Florida to overthrow Castro's government. On 17 March 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the creation of a covert “paramilitary force.” While hatching plots to assassinate Castro, the CIA opened a camp in Guatemala to train the anti-Castro recruits.
President John F. Kennedy, who took office in January 1961, shared the Cold War assumptions that fueled U.S. hostility toward Castro. In the 1960 presidential campaign, he had vowed to expunge communism from Cuba. CIA planners, particularly Richard Bissell, recalling the CIA's toppling of an unfriendly government in Guatemala in 1954, predicted triumph for the exile expedition. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and some other advisers harbored doubts about the plan but muted their criticism of an operation they knew the president basically endorsed. Kennedy approved an assault at two Bay of Pigs beaches, insisting that Washington's role be concealed and that no U.S. military forces be committed.
Planners assumed that the expedition would spark an anti-Castro uprising. On 15 April, B-26 bombers attacked Cuba's air bases, only partially disabling Castro's air force. Sensitive to the international protest that erupted, Kennedy canceled further U.S. air strikes, rejecting CIA advice that air superiority was essential. The invasion, carried out on 16–17 April, soon went awry. Cuban aircraft disabled freighters carrying radio gear, equipment malfunctioned, and a coral reef undetected by the CIA wrecked boats. Local people and militia pinned down the brigade until Castro's army arrived. Despite CIA assurances otherwise, brigade members could not easily escape to the mountains, eighty miles away. No popular uprisings occurred.
Of some 1,400 brigade invaders, more than 1,100 were captured and 114 died. Castro's forces suffered about 150 fatalities. Castro released the brigade prisoners in December 1962, in exchange for U.S. medical supplies. A postinvasion study by General Maxwell Taylor, as well as documents later declassified, revealed the reasons for failure: logistical breakdowns, poor understanding of conditions in Cuba, insufficient interagency coordination, CIA and presidential wishful thinking, timid counsel from presidential advisers, a pervasive overestimation of both the brigade's chances for victory and a mass uprising, and an underestimation of Castro's ability to rally his armed forces and militia.
After the debacle, Washington's anti-Castro effort continued in a plan called Operation Mongoose. It included new assassination plots, sabotage raids, economic sanctions, and contingency plans for a U.S. military invasion. The Bay of Pigs crisis pushed Cuba closer to the Soviet Union. The subsequent Cuban–Soviet agreement to deploy nuclear-capable weapons on the island sparked the frightening October 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
Thomas G. Paterson, Contesting Castro: The United States and the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution, 1994.
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Piero Gleijeses, Ships in the Night: The CIA, the White House, and the Bay of Pigs, Journal of Latin American Studies 27 (Feb. 1995): 1–42.
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