The Bay of Pigs Invasion (also known in Cuba as La Playa Girón after a beach in the Bay of Pigs where the landing took place) was a United States planned and funded landing by armed Cuban exiles on southern Cuba in an attempt to overthrow the Cuban socialist government of Fidel Castro in 1961. Castro's government had previously deposed the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. The resulting fiasco of the invasion attempt has been studied as an ideal case of 'groupthink' and poor decision making.
The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began training exiles in Guatemala and other Central American countries under the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, even before he broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961. In the 1950s the United States had had great success with covert operations, including a very similar plan that toppled the left-leaning government of Guatemala in 1954.
Eisenhower's successor, John F. Kennedy, approved the actual invasion and modified the plan. Instead of attacking the city of Trinidad, which was closer to the anti-Castro guerrillas' area of operations in the Escambray mountains, the new plan was to land in two points in the Bay of Pigs and the Zapata swamps. The landings would take place on Girón and Larga beaches.
The invasion started on April 15, 1961 when A-26 Invader planes with Cuban markings bombed four airfields in Cuba. The media wires began to report that a military uprising had begun in Cuba, and that defecting pilots were bombing Cuban military installations and fleeing to Miami, Florida.
On April 17, about 1,500 exiles armed with US weapons landed on the southern coast of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. They hoped to find support from the local population, intending to cross the island to Havana, but it quickly became evident in the first hours of fighting that the exiles were not going to receive such support and were likely to lose. Kennedy decided against giving the faltering invasion U.S. air support (though four U.S. pilots were allegedly killed or captured in Cuba during the invasion) as it was obvious that nothing short of U.S. ground troops would save the operation; he had also wanted the operation to succeed without overt U.S. support. By the time fighting ended on April 19, ninety exiles were dead and the rest were captured.
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The 1,189 captured exiles were tried and sentenced to 30 years in prison for treason. After 20 months of negotiation with the United States, Cuba released the exiles in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine.
The failed Bay of Pigs invasion severely embarrassed the Kennedy administration, and made Castro wary of future US incursions into Cuba. The fiasco led to the firing, a few months later, of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Allen Dulles, Deputy Director of Operations Richard Bissell and Air Force General Charles Cabell. All three were responsible for the planning of the operation at the CIA. The failed invasion thus led directly to the Cuban Missile Crisis a year and a half later.
The CIA wrote a detailed internal report which lays blame for the failure squarely on internal incompetence. A number of grave errors by the CIA and other American analysts contributed to the debacle:
- The administration believed that the troops could retreat to the mountains to lead a guerrilla war if they lost in open battle. The mountains were on the other side of the island, and the troops were deployed in swamp land, where they were easily surrounded.
- They believed that the American involvement in the incident could be denied.
- They believed that Cubans would be grateful to be liberated from Castro and would quickly join the battle, however Cubans greatly supported Castro and the Revolution. The CIA's near certainty that the Cuban people would rise up and join them was almost certainly based on the agency's extremely weak presence on the ground in Cuba. Because of this, almost all their information came from exiles and defectors, who turned out to be unreliable sources of information.
- They believed that the spirits of the invasion army were high, so invasion had to take place quickly. In fact, the Cuban refugee army was not very motivated.
Many military leaders almost certainly expected the invasion to fail but thought that this failure would force Kennedy to send in marines to save the CIA-trained exiles. Kennedy, however, did not want a full scale war and abandoned the exiles.
A Washington Post article, "Soviets Knew Date of Cuba Attack" (April 29, 2000), indicated that the CIA knew that the Soviet Union knew the invasion would take place before it happened and did not inform Kennedy. Radio Moscow actually broadcast an English language newscast April 13, 1961 predicting the invasion "in a plot hatched by the CIA" using paid "criminals" within a week. The invasion took place four days later.
Critics of U.S. policy at the time allege that Castro was able to capitalize on the blunder and further consolidate his power with popular sympathy from the Cuban people. As the years went on, Cuba effectively became a Soviet satellite state in the Caribbean.