The story of the failed
invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs is one of mismanagement, overconfidence, and
lack of security. The blame for the failure of the operation falls directly in
the lap of the Central Intelligence Agency and a young president and his
advisors. The fall out from the invasion caused a rise in tension between the
two great superpowers and ironically 34 years after the event, the person that
the invasion meant to topple, Fidel Castro, is still in power. To understand the
origins of the invasion and its ramifications for the future it is first
necessary to look at the invasion and its origins.
The Bay of Pigs invasion
of April 1961, started a few days before on April 15th with the bombing of Cuba
by what appeared to be defecting Cuban air force pilots. At 6 a.m. in the
morning of that Saturday, three Cuban military bases were bombed by B-26
bombers. The airfields at Camp Libertad, San Antonio de los Ba?os and Antonio
Maceo airport at Santiago de Cuba were fired upon. Seven people were killed at
Libertad and forty-seven people were killed at other sites on the island.
Two of the B-26s left
Cuba and flew to Miami, apparently to defect to the United States. The Cuban
Revolutionary Council, the government in exile, in New York City released a
statement saying that the bombings in Cuba were “. . . carried out by
‘Cubans inside Cuba’ who were ‘in contact with’ the top command of the
Revolutionary Council . . . .” The New York Times reporter covering the
story alluded to something being wrong with the whole situation when he wondered
how the council knew the pilots were coming if the pilots had only decided to
leave Cuba on Thursday after ” . . . a suspected betrayal by a fellow pilot
had precipitated a plot to strike.
. . .” Whatever the
case, the planes came down in Miami later that morning, one landed at Key West
Naval Air Station at 7:00 a.m. and the other at Miami International Airport at
8:20 a.m. Both planes were badly damaged and their tanks were nearly empty. On
the front page of The New York Times the next day, a picture of one of the B-26s
was shown along with a picture of one of the pilots cloaked in a baseball hat
and hiding behind dark sunglasses, his name was withheld. A sense of conspiracy
was even at this early stage beginning to envelope the events of that week.
In the early hours of
April 17th the assault on the Bay of Pigs began. In the true cloak and dagger
spirit of a movie, the assault began at 2 a.m. with a team of frogmen going
ashore with orders to set up landing lights to indicate to the main assault
force the precise location of their objectives, as well as to clear the area of
anything that may impede the main landing teams 2:30 a.m. and at 3:00 a.m. two
battalions came ashore at Playa Gir¢n and one battalion at Playa Larga beaches. The troops at Playa Gir¢n had orders to move west, northwest, up the coast
and meet with the troops at Playa Larga in the middle of the bay. A small group
of men were then to be sent north to the town of Jaguey Grande to secure it as
When looking at a modern
map of Cuba it is obvious that the troops would have problems in the area that
was chosen for them to land at. The area around the Bay of Pigs is a swampy
marsh land area which would be hard on the troops. The Cuban forces were quick
to react and Castro ordered his T-33 trainer jets, two Sea Furies, and two B-26s
into the air to stop the invading forces. Off the coast was the command and
control ship and another vessel carrying supplies for the invading forces. The
Cuban air force made quick work of the supply ships, sinking the command vessel
the Marsopa and the supply ship the Houston, blasting them to pieces with
five-inch rockets. In the end the 5th battalion was lost, which was on the
Houston, as well as the supplies for the landing teams and eight other smaller
vessels. With some of the invading forces’ ships destroyed, and no command and
control ship, the logistics of the operation soon broke down as the other supply
ships were kept at bay by Casto’s air force. As with many failed military
adventures, one of the problems with this one was with supplying the troops.
In the air, Castro had
easily won superiority over the invading force. His fast moving T-33s, although
unimpressive by today’s standards, made short work of the slow moving B-26s of
the invading force. On Tuesday, two were shot out of the sky and by Wednesday
the invaders had lost 10 of their 12 aircraft. With air power firmly in control
of Castro’s forces, the end was near for the invading army.
Over the 72 hours the
invading force of about 1500 men were pounded by the Cubans. Casto fired 122mm.
Howitzers, 22mm. cannon, and tank fire at them. By Wednesday the invaders were
pushed back to their landing zone at Playa Gir¢n. Surrounded by Castro’s forces some began to surrender while others
fled into the hills. In total 114 men were killed in the slaughter while
thirty-six died as prisoners in Cuban cells. Others were to live out twenty
years or more in those cells as men plotting to topple the government of Castro.
The 1500 men of the invading force never had a chance for success from almost
the first days in the planning stage of the operation. Operation Pluto, as it
came to be known as, has its origins in the last dying days of the Eisenhower
administration and that murky time period during the transition of power to the
newly elected president John F. Kennedy.
The origins of American
policy in Latin America in the late 1950s and early 1960s has its origins in
American’s economic interests and its anticommunist policies in the region. The
same man who had helped formulate American containment policy towards the Soviet
threat, George Kennan, in 1950 spoke to US Chiefs of Mission in Rio de Janeiro
about Latin America..
By the 1950s trade with
Latin America accounted for a quarter of American exports, and 80 per cent of
the investment in Latin America was also American. The Americans had a vested
interest in the region that it would remain pro-American.
The Guatemalan adventure
can be seen as another of the factors that lead the American government to
believe that it could handle Casto. Before the Second World War ended, a coup in
Guatemala saw the rise to power of Juan Jose Ar?valo. He was not a communist
in the traditional sense of the term, but he “. . . packed his government
with Communist Party members and Communist sympathizers.” In 1951 Jacobo
Arbenz succeeded Ar?valo after an election in March of that year. The party
had been progressing with a series of reforms, and the newly elected leader
continued with these reforms. During land reforms a major American company, the
United Fruit Company, lost its land and other holdings without any compensation
from the Guatemalan government. When the Guatemalans refused to go to the
International Court of Law, United Fruit began to lobby the government of the
United States to take action. In the government they had some very powerful
supporters. Among them were Foster Dulles, Secretary of State who had once been
their lawyer, his brother Allen the Director of Central Intelligence who was a
share holder, and Robert Cutler head of the National Security Council. In what
was a clear conflict of interest, the security apparatus of the United States
decided to take action against the Guatemalans.
From May 1st, 1954, to
June 18th, the Central Intelligence Agency did everything in its power to
overthrow the government of Arbenz. On June 17th to the 18th, it peaked with an
invasion of 450 men lead by a Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas. With the help of
air support the men took control of the country and Arbenz fled to the Mexican
Embassy. By June 27th, the country was firmly in control of the invading force.
With its success in Guatemala, CIA had the confidence that it could now take on
anyone who interfered with American interests.
Castro overthrew Batista
in 1959. Originally Castro was not a communist either and even had meetings with
then Vice-President Richard Nixon. Fearful of Castro’s revolution, people with
money, like doctors, lawyers, and the mafia, left Cuba for the United States. To
prevent the loss of more capital Castro’s solution was to nationalize some of
the businesses in Cuba. In the process of nationalizing some business he came
into conflict with American interests just as Arbenz had in Guatemala. “..
. legitimate U.S. Businesses were taken over, and the process of socialization
begun with little if any talk of compensation.” There were also rumours of
Cuban involvement in trying to invade Panama, Guatemala, and the Dominican
Republic and by this time Castro had been turn down by the United States for any
economic aid. Being rejected by the Americans, he met with foreign minister
Anasta Mikoyan to secure a $100 million loan from the Soviet Union. It was in
this atmosphere that the American Intelligence and Foreign Relations communities
decided that Castro was leaning towards communism and had to be dealt with.
In the spring of 1960,
President Eisenhower approved a plan to send small groups of American trained,
Cuban exiles, to work in the underground as guerrillas to overthrow Castro. By
the fall, the plan was changed to a full invasion with air support by exile
Cubans in American supplied planes. The original group was to be trained in
Panama, but with the growth of the operation and the quickening pace of events
in Cuba, it was decided to move things to a base in Guatemala..
It was now fall and a new
president had been elected. President Kennedy could have stopped the invasion if
he wanted to, but he probably didn’t do so for several reasons. Firstly, he had
campaigned for some form of action against Cuba and it was also the height of
the cold war, to back out now would mean having groups of Cuban exiles
travelling around the globe saying how the Americans had backed down on the Cuba
issue. In competition with the Soviet Union, backing out would make the
Americans look like wimps on the international scene, and for domestic
consumption the new president would be seen as backing away from one of his
campaign promises. The second reason Kennedy probably didn’t abort the operation
is the main reason why the operation failed, problems with the CIA.
The failure at the CIA
led to Kennedy making poor decisions, which would affect future relations with
Cuba and the Soviet Union. The failure at CIA had three causes. First the wrong
people were handling the operation, secondly the agency in charge of the
operation was also the one providing all the intelligence for the operation, and
thirdly for an organization supposedly obsessed with security the operation had
National Estimates could have provided information on the situation in
Cuba and the chances for an uprising against Castro once the invasion started.
Also kept out of the loop were the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of
Staff who could have provided help on the military side of the adventure. In the
end, the CIA kept all the information for itself and passed on to the president
only what it thought he should see. Lucien S. Vandenbroucke, in Political
Science Quarterly of 1984, based his analysis of the Bay of Pigs failure on
organizational behaviour theory.
For an organization that
deals with security issues, the CIA’s lack of security in the Bay of Pigs
operation is ironic. Security began to break down before the invasion when The
New York Times reporter Tad Szulc “. . . learned of Operation Pluto from
Cuban friends. . .” earlier that year while in Costa Rica covering an
Organization of American States meeting.
The conclusion one can draw from the articles in The New York Times is
that if reporters knew the whole story by the 22nd, it can be expected that
Castro’s intelligence service and that of the Soviet Union knew about the
planned invasion as well.
In the administration
itself, the Bay of Pigs crisis lead to a few changes. Firstly, someone had to
take the blame for the affair and, as Director of Central Intelligence, Allen
Dulles was forced to resign and left CIA in November of 1961 Internally, the CIA
was never the same, although it continued with covert operations against Castro,
it was on a much reduced scale. According to a report of the Select Senate
Committee on Intelligence, future operations were “. . . to nourish a
spirit of resistance and disaffection which could lead to significant defections
and other by-products of unrest.” The CIA also now came under the
supervision of the president’s brother Bobby, the Attorney General. According to
Lucien S. Vandenbroucke, the outcome of the Bay of Pigs failure also made the
White House suspicious of an operation that everyone agreed to, made them less
reluctant to question the experts, and made them play “devil’s
advocates” when questioning them. In the end, the lessons learned from the
Bay of Pigs failure may have contributed to the successful handling of the Cuban
missile crisis that followed.
ramifications of the Bay of Pigs invasion are a little harder to assess. The
ultimate indication of the invasions failure is that thirty-four years later
Castro is still in power. This not only indicates the failure of the Bay of Pigs
invasion, but American policy towards Cuba in general. The American policy,
rather than undermining Castro’s support, has probably contributed to it. As
with many wars, even a cold one, the leader is able to rally his people around
him against an aggressor.
Fedarko, Kevin.”Bereft of Patrons, Desperate to Rescue his Economy,
Fidel Turns to an Unusual Solution: Capitalism.” Time Magazine, week of
February 20th, 1995. Internet, http://www.timeinc.com, 1995.
Meyer, Karl E. and Szulc, Tad.The Cuban Invasion: The Chronicle
of a Disaster. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, 1962 and 1968.
Mosley, Leonard.Dulles: A Biography of Eleanor, Allen, and John
Foster Dulles and their Family Network. New York: The Dail Press/James Wade, 1978.
Prados, John. Presidents’ Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert
Operations Since World War II. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1986.
Ranelagh, John.CIA: A History. London: BBC Books, 1992.