April 17th

On this day in 1961, a CIA-backed counter-revolutionary force began the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba.


Since the onset of the Cold War, the United States had made it that nation’s duty to battle the rise of global communism, and nowhere was this more important than around its borders. The 1959 Cuban Revolution had seen the overthrow of the US-backed dictator General Batista who had ruled since a military coup in 1952. The Revolution was inspired by the massively unequal nature of Cuban society, with up to 80% of the rural land on the island being owned by non-Cuban North Americans like the Hershey Sugar Company which grew sugar there.

Despite initial scepticism, the US did initially attempt to work with Fidel Castro, but President Eisenhower eventually concluded that as Cuban-Soviet ties grew stronger, the US would be better served to end Castro’s regime. However, Eisenhower was unable to run again as President in 1960 and the plans he drew up landed with the President-elect John F Kennedy. The plan saw the CIA given 13 million dollars to galvanise Cuban exiles in Miami together to launch a counter-revolution with US backing and military support. Many note Kennedy’s changes to the mission as pertinent to its failure, however the operation was a militarily inept one regardless of his intervention. Despite this, had the operation been backed by greater American air power, it is likely that it would have stood more chance of success but then may have antagonised the USSR enough that they would have responded militarily.

The paramilitary force known as Brigade 2506 began training heavily in 1960 and the American planes which would be used in the operation were painted to look like stolen Cuban ones to not arose suspicions of American involvement. This was furthered when the operation was moved to Nicaragua; the location from which the invasion was to be launched. However, suspicion of an invasion was rampant.


On April 15th, Cuba complained to the UN of American involvement in deception flights and other acts of sabotage that had been conducted against Cuba in the run-up to the invasion. In response to Cuban Foreign Ministers Raúl Roa, US ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson stated that US armed forces would not “under any conditions” intervene in Cuba, and that the US would do everything in its power to ensure that no US citizens would participate in actions against Cuba. This was, of course, a blatant lie.

On April 17th the invasion began and was immediately disastrous and within 24 hours had broken down. 100 of the Brigade 2506 died but more importantly 1,100 surrendered to Castro. By April 20th, the invasion was entirely abandoned and US naval support began collecting survivors.

Far from sparking another revolution, the failure of the Bay of Pigs entrenched Cuban determination to make a success of communism to spite the Americans who had tried to topple them. Moreover, the successful defence of their island against the World’s largest military force in history gave Fidel Castro a cult of personality that would help support his regime for decades and even beyond his death. Indeed, in 1962 the US paid Cuba a ransom of 53 million dollars in food and medical supplies for the release of the 1,113 prisoners captured during the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

In contemporary times, the US and Cuba have sought considerably closer relations, with President Barack Obama making a significant visit to the nation last year.



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