Bay Of Pigs: An Attempt To Overthrow A Government Financed By The U.S.

By | April 15, 2021

test article image
Counterattack by Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces supported by T-34 tanks near Playa Giron during the Bay of Pigs invasion, April 19, 1961. (Rumlin/Wikimedia Commons)

Overthrowing Castro and ending his revolution was supposed to be simple. After years of planning that dated back to the Eisenhower administration, American-backed forces were meant to stealthily land on the beach at Playa Giron at the mouth of the Bay of Pigs before taking the airfield and waiting for full U.S. involvement. In reality, the comedy of errors that was the Bay of Pigs irreparably soured Soviet and American relations and further entrenched the West in the Cold War.

Taking Down Castro

When Fidel Castro and his group of guerrilla fighters removed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista from power at the end of 1958, chaos broke out in Havana. Banks, oil refineries, and sugar and coffee plantations were seized by the new Cuban government, who reached out to their Soviet buddies to tag them into the action.

The U.S. didn't love, like, any of that. Eisenhower stopped importing sugar from Cuba, and after the French ship Le Coubre was destroyed in Havana Harbor in March 1960, Castro publicly blamed the U.S. even though no one knows to this day what sank the vessel. At the 1960 meeting of the Organization of American States, someone claimed Castro was using Cuba as an "operational base" for the spread of communism in the West, and he responded by declaring the United States a place where the working class live "in the bowels of the imperialist monster." Basically, things were tense.

test article image
Cuban defectors practicing parachute drops for the Bay of Pigs Invasion. (Central Intelligence Agency/Wikimedia Commons)

The Plan

Before diving into an all-out assault on Cuba, the C.I.A. decided to try cutting the head off the snake with a series of increasingly wacky schemes. One of the earliest attempts on Castro's life involved a poisoned box of his favorite cigars, but the cigars were never delivered, and a subsequent attempt to enlist the Mafia to take him out also fizzled.

On March 17, 1960, the C.I.A. proposed instead to "bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the U.S. in such a manner to avoid any appearance of U.S. intervention" at a meeting with the U.S. National Security Council. Their approach was fourfold: creating a smear campaign against Castro, placing a group of covert operatives inside Cuba, building up forces to fight the Cuban military, and acquiring logistical support for covert military operations on the island. Armed with $13.1 million from President Eisenhower, the C.I.A. started training the Cuban exiles who formed the counter-revolutionary military unit Brigade 2506.

It really wasn't a plan that needed any more complications, but then Kennedy was elected. The new president was far from onboard with Eisenhower's plan, hoping to avoid any direct intervention in Cuba that the Soviets might interpret as an act of war, but the C.I.A. assured him they could keep U.S. involvement to a minimum and incredibly quiet. After all, they had planned for it to look like an anti-Castro revolution born and bred in Cuba itself.