Bay of Pigs Invasion: The American Mistake
During the 1960s, relations between Cuba and the United States were not as amicable as they could have been. The United States felt threatened because Cuba was the only country in the Western hemisphere to adopt the ideas of communism. At first the Americans welcomed the Cuban revolution which brought Fidel Castro to power on December 31, 1958. However, Castro began to link himself with the other superpower, the Soviet Union. This led to a general discord between the United States and Cuba.
On March 17, 1960, President Eisenhower asked the CIA to "organize the training of Cuban exiles, mainly in Guatemala, against a possible future date when they might return to their homeland." The plan at the beginning was that this elite group of soldiers would land on a remote part of Cuba. Once there, they would set up a provisional government. At the same time, the unhappy residents of Cuba would rise up, riot, and the overthrow of Castros regime would have begun. The guerrillas would not be American soldiers, but exiles from Cuba. It was imperative that U.S. involvement in this mission was kept secret. If it was to become known, the U.S. might fact retaliation from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union could charge that the United States violated the OSA charter, which bound American states to respect each others sovereign territory.
Most of the training took place during November of 1960 through January of 1961. This is when the current President Eisenhower and President-elect Kennedy were busy in an exchange of power. President Kennedy was told about the situation by the CIA director, Allen Dulles, on November 29th and gave his approval for the continuation of the training of the exiles. Kennedy paid little attention to the matter until after he was inaugurated. The following month, February, Kennedy asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to assess the situation. The Chiefs of Staff, using the connotation that Castros government was generally unpopular with the citizens of Cuba, determined that a 1,400 man invasion force would be unable to defeat Castros army of 200,000. He then noted that the only way the invasion could be a success is if the unhappy Cuban people rebelled at the same time. He also added that if the mission failed, it could lead to pressure from the international scene, or worse, from the Soviet Union. Kennedy himself was skeptical about the plan, but it is assumed that he was forced to make a decision when the President of Guatemala ordered the exiles out of his nation by the end of April. On the same day as the ultimatum was issued by the President of Guatemala, the CIA reported that the Cubans would receive a large delivery of MiG fighter aircraft from the Soviets. On March 11th, President Kennedy gave the green light for the mission, but he reserved the right to cancel it with 24 hours notice.
On the tenth of April, American advisors began to move the exiles. The anticipated siege was supposed to take place on the seventeenth. The exiles were told that they were supposed to hold three beaches along the Bay of Pigs for three days. Paratroopers would be dropped inland for the purpose of gaining control of the roads through the swamps. Attacks from the Nicaragua Air Force would ground the Cuban Air Force and a group of 1,000 dissidents would join the invaders soon after they landed.
On April 15th, the first air strikes were conducted. Much to the dismay of the United States, the Nicaragua Air Force was only able to destroy five planes. Therefore, another air strike was ordered, but it was aborted at the last instant. The first strike had generated widespread international attention. When the exiles landed on Cuba on April 17th, Castro was ready for them. Intelligence officers in Cuba had warned about a possible attack, and Castro did not want to take any chances. The paratroopers that landed inland were quickly isolated and defeated, permitting the Cuban tanks to secure control of the roads. The actual exiles who landed on the beach were immediately met with heavy resistance. A Cuban aircraft sank a ship carrying munitions and communication equipment. The exiles air force support was quickly destroyed, and the chance of a general uprising in Cuba was quelled when there was a mass arrest of 200,000 suspected dissidents.
Meanwhile, back at the White House, the administration realized that their mission was in terrible danger. President Kennedy agreed to send six unmarked American aircraft to aid the B-26 planes flying from Nicaragua. However, there was a mix up in timing, and the B-26 aircraft arrived at the selected targets an hour before the American convoy, and they the B-26s met with heavy resistance. Exiled Cuban leaders in the United States, upon hearing of the failed invasion, begged President Kennedy to launch a full-scale military invasion of Cuba. However, by April 20th, the exiles had been completely defeated, or captured.
American involvement in the attempted coup could not be kept secret, and the United States faced international opposition. After the Bay of Pigs, relations between the United States, Cuba, and the Soviet Union deteriorated. It is speculated that it was Kennedys indecisiveness that encouraged Nikita Khrushchev to send missiles to Cuba later on.